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'Tis well known to barbers and laundresses: Overt references to knowledge in English medical writing from the Middle Ages to the Present Day

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Chapter Summary

The discursive representation of knowledge, the fundamental objective of scientific inquiry, reflects underlying epistemic conditions of scientific thought (Bates 1995). Knowledge is communicated in scientific writing by means of lexical choice, discourse conventions and the organization of information. Over the long history of vernacular medicine, the writers of each era – from scholasticism and empiricism to evidence based medicine – have had their own perspectives on knowledge, revealed by the discursive practices they employed. Lexical items referring to the concept of knowledge (e.g. knowledge, information, doctrine) are investigated from the late Middle English period to Present-day English. We analyze variation and change in the lexicon of knowledge and analyze the discursive contexts in which the terms appear, showing how these have changed over time in different subgenres within learned medicine. The study makes use of several medical corpora with a total word count of roughly one million words: the MEMT is used for the Middle English period, and a selection of texts from the EMEMT corpus (articles from the Philosophical Transactions and other contemporary medical texts) represent the Early Modern English period. For the PDE period, we use a selection of research articles from academic journals and texts from the Medicor.



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