Elenna Semino, ‘Metaphor in End-of-Life Care’, Glasgow University

‘Metaphor in End-of-Life Care’

Elena Semino, Lancaster University

Thursday 23rd January, 4.15pm

Room 101, 12 University Gardens, School of Critical Studies, University of Glasgow


Seminar summary:

In this talk I provide an overview of the goals, methods and preliminary findings of the ESRC-funded project Metaphor in End-of-Life Care at Lancaster University (grant number: ES/J007927/1; http://ucrel.lancs.ac.uk/melc/). This project is concerned with the use of metaphor by members of three stakeholder groups involved in end-of-life care: patients, unpaid family carers and healthcare professionals. We combine ‘manual’ analysis and corpus linguistic methods to analyse the metaphors used in a 1.5-million-word corpus consisting of interviews and contributions to online fora by members of all three groups. I will present two sets of findings to date. First, I will discuss the metaphors used by thirteen UK-based hospice managers to describe what they see as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ deaths in the course of semi-structured interviews. I will show how the difference between good and bad deaths is partly expressed via contrasting metaphors, such as ‘accepting’ death as the ‘end’ of one’s ‘journey’ on the one hand, and, on the other hand, seeing death as an opponent against which to ‘struggle’, ‘battle’ or ‘fight’ in order to ‘keep going’. I will also revisit the controversial ‘WAR metaphor’ in relation to (terminal) illness by exploring the different ways in which it is used by patients in our data. Our analysis suggests that patients use a variety of WAR metaphors to talk about a wide range of experiences. Moreover, we have found that WAR metaphors can sometimes have a positive function, such as expressing personal determination and mutual solidarity. I will therefore argue that a blanket condemnation of WAR metaphors in the context of (terminal) illness should be replaced by a more nuanced understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of different types and uses of WAR metaphors in different contexts and by different stakeholders.



Elena Semino is Professor of Linguistics and Verbal Art and Head of the Department of Linguistics and English Language at Lancaster University. She is (co)-author of four books, including Metaphor in Discourse (2008, CUP) and Figurative Language, Genre and Register (2013, CUP; with Alice Deignan and Jeannette Littlemore). She is currently working on the ESRC-funded project ‘Metaphor in End-of-Life Care’ with: Jane Demmen, Andrew Hardie, Veronika Koller, Sheila Payne, Paul Rayson (Lancaster University), and Zsófia Demjén (Open University).

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