Language and the Cross-Cultural Dimension of Cancer

  • Marisa Cordella
  • Aldo Poiani


We have seen in the previous chapter the central role of social relationships in promoting the well-being of cancer patients. Their ability to cope with the disease and also the possibility of survivors to reintegrate to a normal life are critically dependent on social support. In turn, such social interactions are modulated by our modes of communication. Through verbal and also non-verbal communication patients display or mask their emotions and thoughts, thus affecting the responses of their carers and other members of their social entourage. Language—even the same language, such as English—also varies cross-culturally in structure, usage and meaning of words, and in a world where people from various backgrounds are coming into contact with each other more frequently, greater knowledge and awareness of such language diversity will foster a more effective communication between cancer patients and people interacting with them. In this chapter we start with a brief introduction to some major linguistic aspects of the cancer experience, including the challenges faced by medical translators and interpreters to then move to more specific issues of language dysfunctions in cancer patients. Through their choice of words, patients and their carers may inadvertently convey very different messages to the ones intended, thus causing miscommunication. Miscommunication becomes prevalent when the communicative expectations of parties are not met. At the centre of the communicative events are the words and meaning attached to them, and this aspect is the focus of a section in this chapter. Many analytical approaches are available to analyse verbal communication, but the full complexity of a verbal exchange can be better unravelled by using tools such as discourse analysis. Therefore examples of the use of discourse analysis in oncology are provided next to then shift our focus to a broader review of the study of narratives. Through discourse analysis (and other analytical tools as well) narratives can be studied as a way of understanding the personal experience of cancer patients, what their needs are and what we can do to help them more effectively. With these sections we set the linguistic foundations for our analysis of the cross-cultural variation in cancer patient communication that follows. This cross-cultural section is organised into 13 different sub-themes. The chapter concludes with a review of the use of metaphors in oncology.


Breast Cancer Cancer Survivor Cancer Experience Hegemonic Masculinity Death Anxiety 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marisa Cordella
    • 1
  • Aldo Poiani
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Languages and Comparative Cultural StudiesUniversity of Queensland BrisbaneBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.School of Biological SciencesMonash University ClaytonClaytonAustralia

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