The 110th Peking University Medical Humanities Forum: Penelope Scott: The Language of Pain in Old English

   On the afternoon of Friday, April 14th, 2023, the 110th Peking University Medical Humanities Forum was held at Room 709, Yifu Teaching Building, Peking University Health Science Center. Dr. Penelope Scott, Associate Professor of Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, Director of the Applied Linguistics Department in the School of Humanities and Social Science, and Co-director of the Health Humanities Cluster of the Research Centre in Culture, Communication, and Society, was invited to deliver a lecture entitled “The Language of Pain in Old English”. Professor Guo Liping (School of Health Humanities, Peking University) chaired the lecture. Nearly 30 teachers and students from the Department of Language and Culture in Medicine and so on attended this lecture.

   To start with, Dr. Scott discussed how culture influences (the expression of) pain. Pain is a feeling that everyone experiences, but it is difficult to express. Therefore, people have to use metaphors to describe it. This makes pain closely related to language and influenced by culture, and the understandings of pain in different cultures are difficult to translate. In English, “pain” means punishment in etymology, which is provided with cultural uniqueness.

   Secondly, Dr. Scott introduced the methods of cultural linguistics research, the definition and the existing literature of “Old English”, and the medical background of Medieval Britain.

   After that, taking Bald’s Leechbook, The Old English Herbarium, The Lacunga, AElfric’s Lives of Saints and other medical and literary texts as language materials, Dr. Scott analyzed the words of “pain” in Old English. She mainly discussed three types of questions: whether the relevant words are rich; whether different pains are distinguished and how to distinguish them; what attitudes these texts revealed towards pain. Dr. Scott concluded that these analyses to some extent have proved that the concept of “pain” is constructed through cultural filters.

   After the lecture, the audience actively asked questions, and a heated discussion on the issues of: the multiple dimensions of “pain” (physical, mental and psychological), the three understanding paradigms of “pain” (cultural methods, cultural image schemas and cultural schemas), the positive understanding of “pain” in Chinese and English, the differences between “pain” and “ache” in English, and the different expressions of “pain” in the transformation of medieval society was carried out among the lecturer and the audience.

   In the end, Professor Guo Liping presented a book to Dr. Scott and expressed gratitude to Dr. Scott.

Department of Language and Culture in Medicine