16 November 2017
The department of Linguistics and English Language were well represented this year at the ESRC Festival of Social Science which took place from the 4th to 11th November.

The ESRC Festival of Social Science is an annual celebration of social science research – comprised of a huge array of public events of all kinds, and designed to promote awareness of UK social science research across the board. This year, it ran from 4th to 11th November.

As the team at ESRC says,

“You may be surprised at just how relevant the Festival’s events are to society today. Social science research makes a difference. Discover how it shapes public policy and contributes to making the economy more competitive, as well as giving people a better understanding of 21st century society. From big ideas to the most detailed observations, social science affects us all everyday – at work, in school, when raising children, within our communities, and even at the national level.”

As an ESRC Centre, CASS has been involved in the Festival since their work began in 2013. This year their contribution to the Festival of Social Science focused in particular on two strands of research that have been under way in CASS for the past two years or so, looking at the intersection of language with the critical issue of health and healthcare. The event, entitled “Valuing language: Effective communication in healthcare provision” took place on Thursday 9th November, in London and featured two presentations. 

First a presentation of research into patient comments on healthcare services collected through the NHS Choices website. Patient feedback has often been analysed by looking straightforwardly at the numeric ratings given in feedback. However, the textual responses supplied alongside these ratings are a far richer source of data – albeit so extensive they can be non-straightforward to analyse! But this is, of course, where corpus-based linguistic methods come in. A CASS project, led by Paul Baker, has applied these methods to investigate patients place on interpersonal skills and effective, compassionate communication. Two members of the team working on this project, Andrew Hardie and Craig Evans, gave an overview of how they have gone about analysing this unique and fascinating source of data.

In the second half of the event, CASS Director Elena Semino presented her work looking at patients’ reporting of pain. A common way for healthcare practitioners to assess the level of pain that patients are experiencing is to use questionnaires that present descriptor  words – such as “pricking/boring/drilling/stabbing”. The descriptor word that a patient chooses is assumed to reflect the level of their pain. Elena’s research suggests, however, that patients’ choice of descriptor may in many cases instead be a result of how strongly associated with the word “pain” the descriptor word is. Again, this is a problem that corpus-based language analysis is an ideal way to address. 

Julia Gillen took part in another of the festival's events entitled "What makes a successful online reader?" on the 11th November in London. The all-day event examined the challenges and opportunities that arise for professionals in schools because of young peoples’ changing experiences of reading online. Julia presented on the subject "Effective ways of using digital technologies in a primary classroom".