Vol. 6 (2021)
The health emergencies of the 18th century

«Air, Climate, Season, … Situation, Food, Poisons, and a few other Things»1: the lexis of fevers and epidemics in British medical writing, 1770-1800

Elisabetta Lonati
Università degli Studi del Piemonte Orientale
Published November 9, 2021
Keywords
  • fever,
  • epidemics,
  • eighteenth-century medical writing,
  • public healthcare,
  • prevention
How to Cite
Lonati, E. (2021). «Air, Climate, Season, … Situation, Food, Poisons, and a few other Things»1: the lexis of fevers and epidemics in British medical writing, 1770-1800. Diciottesimo Secolo, 6, 49-65. https://doi.org/10.36253/ds-12593

Abstract

Medical reports on fevers and epidemics are an interesting research field for investigating eighteenth-century medical language. The works under scrutiny here are focused on epidemic outbreaks which were widespread especially in large and medium towns. They provide linguistic evidence for the many processes of denomination and lexicalisation of diseases, and the lexicalisation of related notions (e.g. contagion and infection), ideas (e.g. environment and social groups), and values (e.g. public health, prevention, poverty and wealth). Starting from the two keywords fever/s and epidemic/s, the aim of this study is to analyse a set of texts published in the British Isles in the last thirty years of the century and referring to contemporary events (from the middle 1760s to the end of the century), in order to discuss the processes of lexicalisation and their impact and function at discourse level. Data were collected quantitatively and qualitatively: the analysis was first carried out on a corpus-based software (focus on occurrence, frequency, collocates, patterns); whereas close reading of concordances and manual selection of extracts represent the qualitative approach and examination for interpretation and discussion of preliminary quantitative results. Medical writing often becomes the background for introducing social issues and contemporary needs and values. The study will confirm this relevant function in the changing late eighteenth-century British society.

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