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LAEL Departmental Lecture Series: Elena Semino

Date: 11 March 2009 Time: 4.30-6.00 pm

The next LAEL Departmental lecture in the series Language, Mind and Society:

Elena Semino (Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster)

Metaphor, metonymy and multimodality in the communication of chronic pain

Wednesday 11 March, 4.30-6.00 pm, Bowland North SR2


The sensation of pain is one of the many private, subjective experiences that are difficult to communicate via language. Yet, sufferers need to describe their pain in order to elicit help and sympathy from those around them, and to enable medical professionals to provide treatment or pain management. The need to communicate successfully is particularly compelling in the case of chronic pain, since, in such cases, the cause of the pain is often neither visible to the naked eye nor detectable via tests, X-rays or scans. However, it is acknowledged in the medical literature that communication between chronic pain sufferers and doctors is often a frustrating experience, especially for patients. It is also recognised that pain experiences are often reported by means of figurative language, and particularly simile and metaphor. Some recent linguistic studies have begun to consider the role of both metaphor and metonymy in communicating the experience of pain, and to point out the figurative resources that are used in English to express pain sensations.

In my talk, I will begin by considering the main conventional patterns in the metaphorical and metonymic description of pain in English: I will draw from the 100-million-word British National Corpus for examples and frequency information, and I will consider the metaphorical expressions that are included in a widely-used questionnaire for the clinical assessment of pain (the McGill Pain Questionnaire).I will then discuss a project conducted by an artist, Deborah Padfield, at a specialist pain management unit at St Thomas's Hospital in London. Padfield, worked with a group of chronic pain sufferers in order to produce photographs that could convey their pain experiences to non-sufferers, and particularly to doctors. The photographs were accompanied by verbal explanations of what they represented. The project resulted in an exhibition that was shown at several locations in London and Basel, and in a book entitled Perceptions of Pain. I will show how participants in the project creatively used a variety of (visual and verbal) metaphors and metonymiesin order to convey different aspects of their pain experiences, includingtheir quality, intensity, and development over recurrent cycles of pain. I will finish by considering the implications of my analysis, both for cognitive approaches to figurative language, and for the understanding and improvement of communication in healthcare settings. On the one hand, I will discuss the relevance of my data for recent claims that mental simulation is central to comprehension generally, and to metaphor comprehension in particular. On the other hand, I will consider the reactions of medical professionals to the material that resulted from Padfield's project, and reflect on the potential and limitations offigurative language, creativityand multimodality in fostering better communication between doctors and chronic pain sufferers.


Who can attend: Anyone


Further information

Organising departments and research centres: Linguistics and English Language


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Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Lancaster University
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