Nursing - Specialised vocabulary research and the professions

Vocabulary and English for Specific Purposes Research - Averil Coxhead 2018

Specialised vocabulary research and the professions

Specialised vocabulary in Nursing, according to Bosher (2013), is an important part of accuracy in spoken language in this profession. Elements of lexis which are important in accuracy include having an understanding of shades of synonyms. For example, Cameron (1998) compares differences in connotation between choosing to use one of these synonyms depending on the situation: belly, stomach or abdomen. This point suggests that decisions on specialised vocabulary use in Nursing require layers of understanding around general and specialised vocabulary. Part of the decision making on word selection depends on the audience or the person a nurse might be talking with. Nursing involves patient communication, and lexical choice is important when paraphrasing sometimes quite dense medical information and whether to use specialised vocabulary or not, as already seen in the earlier example from Franken and Hunter (2012). An example from O’Hagan et al. (2014) demonstrates that the choice to use specialised vocabulary with patients is not always viewed negatively. The researchers used simulated patient recordings of interactions with nurses to explore judgements of nurses’ communication skills. The simulations were assessed by 15 nurse educators and clinicians. In one case, a nurse chose to use technical vocabulary in a discussion with a patient who had presented with asthma in hospital previously. In this case, the use of specialised vocabulary was viewed positively, because the nurse showed sensitivity to the needs of the patient by recognising the level of knowledge of the patient and matching it with the choice of technical and specific vocabulary.

Table 7.4 Examples from Wette and Hawken (2016) of a written formal and informal medical terminology test

Single words can be important in Nursing studies, as Marston and Hansen (1985, cited in Bosher, 2013) note. They discuss the need for sub-technical vocabulary that underlies technical vocabulary in Nursing, for example administer, position and record. Cameron (1998) also records word strings which are important in Nursing studies, such as bring up, hold on and turn up with. Table 7.4 shows an example of an assessment of lay-medical vocabulary and appropriate formulaic language in a medical degree programme for international students (Wette & Hawken, 2016). Note that the examples include knowledge of appropriate language in informal and formal expressions (first two rows in Table 7.4) and understanding medical terminology and how a layperson might describe it (third row).

High frequency vocabulary plays an important role in Nursing communication. Staples and Biber (2014) investigate grammatical patterns in a spoken corpus of nurse-patient interactions in comparison with a corpus of general English conversations, using a functional analysis of stance. This study provides a wealth of examples of nurse-patient interactions, such as this one showing a nurse using hedging (in this example, kind of) when talking about symptoms: So, when us you you have a low grade temperature which could kind of be from inflammation so we’re not going to be real worried about that (p. 134). These examples of language in use would also be useful for a lexical analysis to find out more about everyday vocabulary and the nature and size of technical vocabulary in Nursing.

One study of a corpus of research articles in Nursing by Yang (2015) was an attempt to find out more about specialised vocabulary in context. This study resulted in a specialised word list of 676 word families which covered approximately 13.64% of the source corpus. The one-million-word corpus contained 252 articles, and the analysis excluded high frequency words in English. Examples from this word list include words which we might expect to see in a medically oriented word list, such as participate, cancer, surgery and symptom. Other examples from the list reflect the research orientation of the corpus: data, analyse and method.