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Language and health online
Third-party funded project
Project title Language and health online
Principal Investigator(s) Locher, Miriam
Project Members Rudolf von Rohr, Marie-Thérèse
Thurnherr, Franziska
Organisation / Research unit Departement Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaften / English Linguistics (Locher)
Project Website
Project start 01.10.2012
Probable end 30.09.2015
Status Completed

This linguistic project investigates e(lectronic)-health interaction in asynchronous, written computer-mediated communication. By exploring this interface from a particularly linguistic perspective, we endeavor to contribute to a better understanding of e-health practices. The project consists of two parts: “Persuasion in smoking cessation online” and “Relational work in email counseling”, which pursue joined as well as individual research questions.

In the last decades the Internet has evolved to become an important source of information for health concerns (cf. Richardson 2005). There are many professional information sites, peer-support sites for patients, mailing lists, etc. This makes online health communication an important research field for different disciplines. The linguistic study of online health practices sheds light on how language is used to create meaningful exchanges between professionals and patients and between lay people. A linguist study of these practices is especially pertinent because e-health is predominantly a written mode, relying crucially on language. We are focusing on two areas of health practices that share an element of persuasion: Anti-smoking campaigns and smoking cessation help sites as well as email therapy contain aspects of “attempt[ing] to evoke a specific change in the attitudes or behaviors of an audience”, which is the definition of persuasion provided by Jowett et al. (1999: 28). We wish to study these ‘sites of persuasion’ as an interactive process from a linguistic perspective.

Professional health Internet sites usually have either a mandate to inform and enlighten a particular target population (cf. e.g. the national and governmental sites) and/or they have the clear aim to contribute to risk prevention and change in behavior of the target group. In a similar vein, online therapists strive to help their patients find their way through a problem by means of the ‘talking cure’, although – crucially for our project – carried out in the written mode. Language is thus exploited for persuasion to achieve these goals. While persuasive strategies on smoking cessation might be expected to be more straightforward than in the non-directive genre of therapy, it is our goal to learn what linguistic persuasion strategies emerge in the different practices. Our methodological approach is positioned within interactional discourse analysis in that we study language in use and wish to explore the variation that we encounter. We are particularly interested in interpersonal pragmatics, i.e. the study of language in use that focuses on the relational side of the practices involved. A combination of the study of the relational aspect of language with language use for persuasive means is an important combination for our research of e-health communication. It is important to stress that we are going to operationalize persuasion by looking at linguistic surface strategies as found in the practices that contain a persuasive orientation rather than looking at psychological effects of persuasive acts in the readers.

To investigate the interactive process of persuasion in the frames of smoking cessation and therapeutic discourse, we will address the following overarching questions: (1) What characteristic activities are employed in the different practices (e.g. conveying information, giving advice or reflecting on interactants’ interpretations of events or relationships, inviting introspection, …)?; (2) What linguistic strategies are employed to achieve these activities?; (3) What is the relation between the patterns of linguistic strategies and the creation of interpersonal effects (e.g. solidarity, empathy, power, the therapeutic alliance)? The close collaboration and continual exchange of results between both parts of the project will provide important insights into the dynamic, discursive construction of two online health communication practices from a distinctly linguistic perspective, will add to linguistic theory in the field of interpersonal pragmatics, and will be useful for practitioners.

Keywords relational work, Internet communication, websites, fora, email, persuasion, health risk
Financed by Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF)

Published results ()

  ID Autor(en) Titel ISSN / ISBN Erschienen in Art der Publikation
69426  Locher, Miriam A.  Advice online : advice-giving in an American Internet health column  90-272-5392-7    Publication: Authored Book (Verfasser eines eigenständigen Buches) 
69429  Locher, Miriam A.; Hoffmann, Sebastian  The emergence of the identity of a fictional expert advice-giver in an American Internet advice column  1860-7330 ; 1860-7349  Text & Talk  Publication: JournalArticle (Originalarbeit in einer wissenschaftlichen Zeitschrift) 
259313  Locher, Miriam A.  Health Internet sites : a linguistic perspective on health advice columns  1035-0330 ; 1470-1219  Social semiotics  Publication: JournalArticle (Originalarbeit in einer wissenschaftlichen Zeitschrift) 
1951571  Harvey, Kevin; Locher, Miriam A.; Mullany, Louise  "Can I Be at Risk of Getting AIDS?" A Linguistic Analysis of Two Internet Columns on Sexual Health  1615-3014  Linguistik online  Publication: JournalArticle (Originalarbeit in einer wissenschaftlichen Zeitschrift) 
2434621  Locher, Miriam A.  Internet advice  978-3-11-021445-1  Pragmatics of Computer-Mediated Communication  Publication: Book Item (Buchkap., Lexikonartikel, jur. Kommentierung, Beiträge in Sammelbänden etc.) 
3018204  Rudolf von Rohr, Maire-Thérèse  “You will be glad you hung onto this quit”: Sharing information and giving support when stopping smoking online  978-0-08-100248-3 ; 978-0-08-100259-9  Meeting Health Information Needs Outside of Healthcare: Opportunities and Challenge  Publication: Book Item (Buchkap., Lexikonartikel, jur. Kommentierung, Beiträge in Sammelbänden etc.) 
3580587  Thurnherr, Franziska; Rudolf von Rohr, Marie-Thérèse; Locher, Miriam A.  The functions of narrative passages in three written online health contexts  2300-9969  Open Linguistics  Publication: JournalArticle (Originalarbeit in einer wissenschaftlichen Zeitschrift) 
3884099  Rudolf von Rohr, Marie-Thérèse; Thurnherr, Franziska; Locher, Miriam A.  Linguistic expert creation in online health practices  978-3-319-92662-9 ; 978-3-319-92663-6  Analysing digital discourse: new insights and future directions  Publication: Book Item (Buchkap., Lexikonartikel, jur. Kommentierung, Beiträge in Sammelbänden etc.) 
4136503  Locher, Miriam A; Thurnherr, Franziska  Language and Health Online  1615-3014    Publication: Edited Book (Herausgeber eines eigenständigen Buches) 
4136522  Locher, Miriam A.; Thurnherr, Franziska  Typing yourself healthy: Introduction to the special issue on language and health online  1615-3014  Linguistics Online  Publication: JournalArticle (Originalarbeit in einer wissenschaftlichen Zeitschrift) 
4471204  Thurnherr, Franziska  "As it's our last exchange next time..." The closure initiation in email counseling  1615-3014  Linguistik online  Publication: JournalArticle (Originalarbeit in einer wissenschaftlichen Zeitschrift) 
4487879  Rudolf von Rohr, Marie-Thérèse  Persuasion in smoking cessation online: an interpersonal pragmatic perspective  978-3-928969-71-0    Publication: Authored Book (Verfasser eines eigenständigen Buches) 
4598749  Rudolf von Rohr, Marie-Thérèse; Locher, Miriam A.  The interpersonal effects of complimenting others and self-praise in online health environments  9789027207579 ; 9789027260727  Complimenting behaviour across social media: New contexts and emerging trends  Publication: Book Item (Buchkap., Lexikonartikel, jur. Kommentierung, Beiträge in Sammelbänden etc.) 

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