|Chan, Ka Wai
|A corpus study of an online cancer support group : how are topics and emotions expressed
|Cheng, Winnie (ENGL)
|Online social networks
Cancer -- Patients -- Social networks
Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations
|Faculty of Humanities
|x, 190 pages
|"The spoken language is the most important tool in medicine" (Cassell, 1985, p. 1). This quote summarizes the value of talking with someone who could help during illness. Online cancer support groups are an increasingly common way for people who are affected by cancer to find information and emotional support from someone who has similar health concerns. Many studies of online cancer support groups have investigated the functional content of support by classifying the types of social support enacted. However, we have little understanding of how shared meaning of engaging mutual support is linguistically expressed in online environments. Participants use language to express their cancer experiences, including what they want to know and how they feel about a situation. They also use language to interact with others in order to maintain relations and elicit support within the network. Every online message, through the participant's choice and patterns of words, has contributed to making meaning. Motivated by the notion of studying enacted social support as a communication phenomenon (Albrecht & Adelman, 1987; Goldsmith, 2004), this corpus study is interested in the significance of language by virtue of its phraseological nature in making meaning from the writer's perspective. Understanding how language is used in talking about their cancer experiences and co-creating semantic and pragmatic meanings is central to this study. It offers a corpus-based examination of the recurrent patterns of key lexical items identified in a UK-based online cancer forum, with reference to Sinclair's (1996, 1998, 2004a) model of description of the lexical item, comprising five categories of co-selection. Taking keywords analysis as a starting point to interrogate the dominant topics of a corpus of cancer talk, this study describes the lexical items in terms of core, collocation, colligation, semantic preference and semantic prosody in order to interpret the extended units of meaning conveyed by key words. The study is complemented by analyzing the key semantic categories and constituent emotion words in the discourse field of 'emotion'.
This study, encompassing two levels of corpus-based investigation of key words and semantic categories in the discourse field of 'emotion', has shown the value of a combined research method to examine the content and relational aspects that characterize how an online cancer support group operates. The findings contribute to the online social support literature by elucidating the context and revealing the evaluation of participants about their cancer experiences through which a supporting network is formed. The study has enabled a deeper understanding of the complexities of online social support for cancer and captured the nuances of language about this life-threatening disease through the meaning interpreted in the co-text of concordances. It is valuable to understand what the participants meant to describe about their cancer experiences, which are far more meaningful but less visible than what is explicitly said. From the semantic and pragmatic patterns observed in the lexical items in the corpus data, it is possible to make inferences about how enacted informational and emotional support is performed.
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