Metaphor in End-of-Life Care

Dr Zsófia Demjén, Senior Research Associate, Lancaster University, UK

Dr Zsófia Demjén

Dr Zsófia Demjén

On 1 September, academics from three faculties at Lancaster University began the data collection stage of the ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) funded project ‘Metaphor in End-of-Life Care’. Over 18 months, Elena Semino, Veronika Koller, Andrew Hardie and Zsófia Demjén (Linguistics and English Language), Paul Rayson (Computing and Communications) and Sheila Payne (International Observatory on End of Life Care) will study the metaphors used by patients, unpaid family carers and healthcare professionals in a 1.5-million-word data set consisting of interviews and contributions to online fora.

The study focuses on metaphors as these are often used in describing complex, emotional, subjective and taboo experiences – they can convey more, more vividly, but very concisely. Any systematic patterns can shed light on the nature of the experiences, attitudes, and needs of the members of each group and identify areas where increased anxiety or misunderstanding can occur.

For example, though it’s early days yet, we noticed that death is talked about in at least two ways: it is seen as something that approaches the patient, and also as something that the patient moves towards. When I suggested this to one of our interviewees after the interview, he immediately responded with: “Of course there’s a difference! If I’m hit by a bus then death has approached me.” Brilliantly put. And the types of questions we’ll be asking ourselves are ‘Is one way of describing it more common in one group than another (eg patients compared to healthcare professionals)?’  ‘Could this be problematic when they are trying to have difficult but necessary conversations?’

We’ll employ more traditional qualitative analysis of language use, but will also take advantage of Wmatrix, innovative semi-automated text analysis software developed by Paul Rayson. Wmatrix includes a module that can group individual words into categories of meaning. For example, expressions such as able-bodied, bedridden, freshen, recuperate, well, health-wise, blood clot, breast cancer, etc would all be grouped under ‘Health and Disease’. We can explore categories of meaning that are likely to be used metaphorically in context and identify examples in the entire data set without having to search for every possible word individually. This will allow us to identify metaphorical expressions more systematically than is currently possible, not only manually, but also with the help of other semi-automated tools.

In the coming months, after the completion of interviews, we will begin more intensive and extensive analyses leading to various publications and conference presentations. We intend to keep our website updated with developments, preliminary results and observations. We hope that in the process we will help make a tangible difference in the final stages of individuals’ lives.

To find out more…
Read more about the background to the project and upcoming developments on the Metaphor in End-of-Life Care website.

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2 Responses to Metaphor in End-of-Life Care

  1. Metaphors are important because they engage with the human imagination which has no limits in a situation where the body has reached its limit.

    • As a Linguist and a Professor of Aesthetics, I take the liberty of writing You about the Fullness of Your Words. The Fullness of Your Words underlines the Power of Language which is Endless. The Power of Language, the Power of Sign, the Power of Gesture and the Power of Pain in PreverbalOncologicChildren: This is the field of my Researches. Researches begun in March 2010, when my Little Nephew was diagnosticated the Acute LymphoblasticLeukemia, at 12 months of HIs life, on the 8th of March 2010. I am His aunt. All my studies are To HIs Memory, because my Little Nephew died on the 17th October 2010, at 19 months. To His Memory, I began a study called PreverbalOncologicPsychoLinguistics, http://www.luisellamagnani.it, . I want to give my studies and researches to All The PreverbalOncologicChildren in the World. PreverbalChildren love so much listening to metaphors because for Them these are LinguisticCartoons. Unfortunately I could not help my Little Nephew because I am not a HealthCareProfessional. Now, I want to be-and-do-All What Could Not Be-and-Do For Him.

      My best regards to You
      Luisella Magnani

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