Elena Semino


Elena Semino is Professor of Linguistics and Verbal Art in the Department of Linguistics and English Language at Lancaster University, and Director of the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science. She holds a Visiting Professorship at the University of Fuzhou in China. She specializes in health communication, medical humanities, corpus linguistics, stylistics, narratology and metaphor theory and analysis. Since 2010, she has worked primarily on narratives of autism and schizophrenia, communication about pain, and communication about cancer and the end of life. Her work usually involves a combination of qualitative and quantitative analysis, drawing from the tools and techniques of corpus linguistics. She has (co-)authored over 80 academic publications, including: Metaphor in Discourse (Cambridge University Press, 2008) and Metaphor, Cancer and the End of Life: A Corpus-based Study (Routledge, 2018).

Language, illness and healthcare

Language is central to the practice and provision of healthcare. It mediates how illness is understood, diagnosed and experienced. Effective and sensitive communication improves information-provision, diagnosis, support, self-management and self-esteem; poor or insensitive communication can cause misunderstandings, misdiagnoses, frustration, anxiety, stigma, and even death. In this talk I provide two examples of how linguistic research (and particularly corpus-assisted discourse analysis) can produce findings that are directly relevant to challenges in communication about illness. The first study concerns metaphors in communication about cancer. Metaphor is central to how we make sense of and communicate our experiences. This is particularly the case with subjective and sensitive experiences such as illness. Drawing from a corpus-based study of online writing by people with cancer, I show how a variety of metaphors are used creatively by patients as framing devices to express their lived experience of illness, and particularly to present themselves as more or less (dis)empowered within that experience. I then introduce a resource based on the findings of the research – the Metaphor Menu for people with cancer. The second study concerns communication about pain. It is well known that the experience of pain is difficult to communicate verbally. This is particularly problematic in the case of chronic pain, where diagnosis and treatment often rely on the patient’s ability to articulate his or her own experiences, and on clinicians’ ability to make the most of what patients say. I introduce a series of projects in which patients co-produced visual representations of their pain in collaboration with an artist, and then present the results of a study that explored the difference that the availability of these images can make in specialist consultations about chronic pain. I conclude with some reflections on opportunities and challenges in conducting linguistic research on communication about illness.

 Jim Parle


Jim Parle MBChB DRCOG FRCGP MD is Professor of Primary Care and is Course director for the Physician Assistant PGDip progamme at Birmingham University Medical School. Jim entered General Practice in 1982 and was Senior Partner from 1983 to 2000, continuing part-time General Practice alongside academia since then.  Jim’s main activity in his 20 years as an academic has been in education, leading on the introduction of a major community based teaching strand within the MBChB course; championing the place of non-biosciences such as ethics and law and behavioural science in the medical curriculum; establishing the PA PGDip; and leading innovative educational approaches such as using lay women to teach medical students how to perform female pelvic examinations. His research interests have been predominantly in thyroid epidemiology and in education. He has received grants from, among others, the RCGP, PPP (now the Health Foundation) and the NIHR.

Special Guest Speaker

John Skelton

John Skelton.jpg

John Skelton is Professor of Clinical Communication, and co-Director of the Interactive Studies Unit (ISU) at Birmingham University Medical School. He is also Associate Director of Education (Quality) in the College of Medical and Dental Sciences, and has responsibility for the educational quality of all College Programmes. Other responsibilities include Director of the College Professional Support Unit, and Head of Learning and Teaching for the School of Health and Population Sciences. He is the author of Language and Clinical Communication: this bright Babylon, which draws on his background in Applied Linguistics, and puts forward an alternative to mainstream views of teaching and research into communication for the healthcare professions. He has published in excess of 100 academic papers on aspects of clinical communication, medical education, medical humanities, and applied linguistics, with research appearing in journals as diverse as The Lancet and Applied Linguistics..  

John has a particular interest in international education, and has undertaken many short consultancies or courses around the world, mainly to evaluate language teaching programmes at overseas universities in eg Language for Medical Purposes, or to deliver direct teaching or teacher-training on language-related areas. He is President of EALTHY.