The Languages of care – Commentary by Jonathan Mc Farland from Sechenov University Moscow

I believe that healthcare is at a critical crossroads. On the one hand, the advances in science and technology in the last decades have brought about a revolution in the armaments that doctors and other healthcare professionals have at their disposal to combat the disease. But we must ask ourselves at what the cost, and I cannot help but think that this scientific slant means that we are now in grave danger of forgetting what medicine and medical practice is really about.

That is why, for me, Maria Giulia Marini’s new book, “Languages of Care in Narrative Medicine” is now so important, and so needed. In it, she aims to bring a balance to the healthcare conundrum, through language. Please take note of the title and the word “Care”, for is not “care and caring” and not “cure and curing” really at the heart of medicine? Perhaps, this has recently been forgotten.

I am reminded of the English poet and writer, Rudyard Kipling, who, on speaking at the Royal College of Surgeons in 1923, said, “I am, by calling, a dealer in words; and words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” This is understood by Marini, who explains how she wishes to create a dialogue between NM (narrative medicine) and NSM (natural semantic metalanguage) using the 65 “prime“ words that are shared by all languages in order to explore the thoughts, feelings, and actions of patients when coping with illness.

This is a fascinating book, and one that will shed light on what it is to be human in the 21st century and show us how language is the key to all; health, disease, suffering and ultimately, death. I suggest that each one of us will draw something different from it but, in the end, its universal appeal, coincides with the fact that each one of us, no matter our background, will suffer or see loved ones suffer?


By Jonathan Mc Farland,

I.M. Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University

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