Thursday, October 3, 2013

Chemotherapy as language: sound symbolism in cancer medication names

Chemotherapy as language: sound symbolism in can... [Soc Sci Med. 2008] - PubMed - NCBI


The concept of sound symbolism proposes that even the tiniest sounds comprising a word may suggest the qualities of the object which that word represents. Cancer-related medication names, which are likely to be charged with emotional meaning for patients, might be expected to contain such sound-symbolic associations. We analyzed the sounds in the names of 60 frequently-used cancer-related medications, focusing on the medications' trade names as well as the names (trade or generic) commonly used in the clinic. We assessed the frequency of common voiced consonants (/b/, /d/, /g/, /v/, /z/; thought to be associated with slowness and heaviness) and voiceless consonants (/p/, /t/, /k/, /f/, /s/; thought to be associated with fastness and lightness), and compared them to what would be expected in standard American English using a reference dataset. A Fisher's exact test for independence showed the chemotherapy consonantal frequencies to be significantly different from standard English (p=0.009 for trade; p<0.001 for "common usage"). For the trade names, the majority of the voiceless consonants were significantly increased compared to standard English; this effect was more pronounced with the "common usage" names (for the group, O/E=1.62; 95% CI [1.37, 1.89]). Hormonal and targeted therapy trade names showed the greatest frequency of voiceless consonants (for the group, O/E=1.76; 95% CI [1.20, 2.49]). Our results suggest that taken together, the names of chemotherapy medications contain an increased frequency of certain sounds associated with lightness, smallness and fastness. This finding raises important questions about the possible role of the names of medications in the experiences of cancer patients and providers.