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PaSty talk by Veronika Koller: Communication and language use by Parkinson's patients and their spouses

Date: 28 May 2014 Time: 16.00-17.00

Venue: Bowland North SR 24

Veronika Koller (Lancaster University) and Dorothea L. Hollinde (Neurologisches Zentrum, Bad Segeberg, Germany)


In this talk, we will be presenting a small-scale pilot study into the language that German Parkinson's patients and their spouses use to talk about illness and its impact on their relationship, as well as the reported communication patterns between them. We also address whether the language use of the interview partners shows any gendered patterns, and what potential problems and resources in the relationship between patients and spouses the results suggest.

We used mixed quantitative and qualitative methods combining medical and psychological questionnaires with semi-structured interviews. Our sample of informants consisted of four couples in long-term marriages, all of whom filled in two questionnaires on how content they were in their relationship and overall. The patients additionally filled in the Parkinson's Disease Questionnaire and the Unified Parkinson's Disease Rating Scale. All informants were also interviewed individually and the transcripts were analysed for metaphors, including those of communication and disease, social actor reference, (in)direct speech and meta-communicative comments, and attribution of self and partner.

The qualitative analysis shows that communication is mostly talked about in terms of pressure, mechanics and violence, while the disease is metaphorised as a burden and a downward movement. Moreover, we can see a tendency for the spouse to mention themselves less frequently than the patient while all patients mention themselves more often than their spouse. In addition, all spouses describe the patient in greater detail than themselves, independent of whether the attribution is negative or positive. This focus on the patient translates into patients being more content, both overall and in their relationships, than their spouses.

In terms of gendered patterns, the husbands of female patients tend to present themselves as experts for the disease and therapists for their wives, display a protective attitude and mention fewer family and other social contacts. This focus on the relationship can be related to husbands being less content with their overall life, but more content with their relationship than wives. By the same token, female patients, although they have more severe motoric impairments than male patients, are more content, both with their disease as well as overall.

The results suggest potential problems in the spouses' strong focus on the patient and, for the wives, their mitigation of feelings and behaviours they see as negative in themselves. Another problem is suggested by the divergence between illocutionary force, locutionary act and perlocutionary effect in reported communication. On the other hand, potential resources are shared or complementary metaphors.

Although the data sample is small, its analysis indicates an asymmetry between patients and spouses that should be investigated on a larger scale. The results of such a study could help to develop a specific relationship and communication training for Parkinson's patients and their spouses.


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
Lancaster LA1 4YD
United Kingdom

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