Home > Research > Publications & Outputs > The Language of Pregnancy Loss
View graph of relations

The Language of Pregnancy Loss: Time for a Change?

Research output: Contribution to conference - Without ISBN/ISSN Conference paper

Publication date29/04/2022
<mark>Original language</mark>English
Event14th BAAL LGaS SIG event: Language, Gender and Health Inequalities - Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, United Kingdom
Duration: 29/04/202229/04/2022


Conference14th BAAL LGaS SIG event: Language, Gender and Health Inequalities
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


Despite recognition since the 1980s that language used in relation to pregnancy loss (PL) impacts patient experience (Beard et al. 1985), this continues to be an area overlooked by linguistic research. Whilst the medical profession produces so-called ‘consensus statements’ on such language (e.g. Kolte et al. 2015; Johnson et al. 2020) without empirical data, patients are forced to take to social media to express dissatisfaction with the linguistic resources available. These resources, they contend, perpetuate outdated attitudes, inadequately reflecting the significant emotional toll PL can have. Phrases such as incompetent cervix, blighted (‘diseased’) ovum, and miscarriage are considered victim-blaming and misogynistic (Oré 2020). Since self-blame is an established psychological impact of PL (Watson et al. 2018), use of language which encodes maternal culpability is obviously problematic. Likewise, bereaved families object to language which objectifies babies, such as products of conception, remains, or use of stillborn as a noun.
There is a clear need for systematic linguistic research to examine how such language is used, and what place it has in contemporary society. However, linguistics as a discipline has reached a crossroads. Whereas since its inception, it has eschewed and even condemned prescriptivism, we are now in an era of proliferating guidelines for use of inclusive language, often produced with the input of academic linguists. In contexts such as the language of PL, then, we must ask what the role of modern linguists is, and whether the notion of a purely descriptive linguistic discipline can be sustained, or is even desirable.