How physicians use metaphors in their L2

Oliwia Szymanska will present the use of novel metaphoric expressions by L2 doctors in Norway.

The speaker is smiling and wearing a pink shirt


Metaphors are a crucial part of efficient communication in healthcare. Health professionals use metaphors to make the medical universe more comprehensible for the patients (Casarett et al., 2010; Olsman et al., 2014; Landau et al. 2017; Spina et al. 2018; Johannessen & Askeland, 2018). What has not been investigated in the studies to date is the ability of physicians working in their second or third language to deploy metaphors in their L2.

In this talk I will present how Polish physicians speaking L2 Norwegian use metaphorical language in their encounter with L1 Norwegian patients. The study departs from the theory of cross-linguistic influence suggested by Jarvis and Pavlenko (2008) and the cognitive metaphor theory by Lakoff and Johnson (1980, 1999), further developed by Kövecses (2020). The data are transcripts of video-recordings from a number of outpatient clinics in Norway, supplemented by interviews on the doctors’ metaphorical awareness. The qualitative analysis of the data has shown that the doctors usually use unconventional metaphorical expressions. These are often sets of expressions used repeatedly in each conversation. By deploying imageries instead of clinical explanations, the doctors cater for their L2 lexicon shortages and secure understanding. A close analysis revealed that the expressions they favored came from the L1 but were perfectly comprehensible in the L2.

At the end of the talk, I will discuss both the theoretical and practical implications of these findings, the former involving cross-linguistic transferability of the metaphors, and the latter integration of figurative language in L2 classes for medical professionals.


Casarett, D. et al. (2010). Can Metaphors and Analogies Improve Communication with Seriously ill Patients? Journal of Palliative Medicine, Vol. 13, No. 3.

Jarvis, S. & A. Pavlenko. (2008). Crosslinguistic Influence in Language and Cognition.  Routledge.

Johannessen, A., & Askeland, N. (2018). Metaforer om sykdom og død: en litteraturoversikt. In: A. Johannessen, N. Askeland, I. Jørgensen & J. Ulvestad (Eds.), Døden i livet, pp 153-169.  Cappelen Damm Akademisk.

Kövecses, Z. (2020). Extended Conceptual Metaphor Theory. Cambridge University Press.

Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. The University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, George & M.Johnson. (1999). Philosophy in the Flesh. Basic Books.

Landau,M., J. Arndt & L. D. Cameron (2017). Do Metaphors in Health Messages Work? Exploring Emotional and Cognitive Factors. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Olsman, E. et al. (2014). Improving communication on hope in palliative care. A qualitative study of palliative care professionals’ metaphors of hope: grip, source, tune, and vision. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, 48(5), 831–838.

Spina et al. (2018). Enhancing Health Message Farming With Metaphor and Cultural Values: Impact in Latinas’ Cervical Cancer Screening. Annals og Behavioral Medicine. Vol. 52, No 2.

World Health Organization. (2022). Global Strategy on Human Resources for Health: Workforce 2030: Reporting at Seventy-fifth World Health Assembly.


Oliwia Szymanska is a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan. She has a doctoral degree from the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland. Previously, she has worked as a senior lecturer in Norwegian as a second language at the University of Oslo. Before moving to Norway she was an assistant professor and leader for Norwegian language studies at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Warsaw. For many years, she also taught Norwegian to physicians within specialist healthcare, published teaching materials, and developed a language proficiency test for the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Oliwia investigates different aspects of second language acquisition in Polish speakers of Norwegian deploying conceptual transfer hypothesis. Currently, she focuses mainly on the comprehension and production of L2 metaphorical expressions, and L2 Norwegian in specialist healthcare.


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Published Sep. 27, 2022 1:56 PM - Last modified Sep. 28, 2022 8:53 AM