The Dead Language   8 comments

Its hard to examine these types of readings without a strong emotional reaction; its even harder to try and find the words that can do these emotions justice. If it’s this difficult for us to discuss this material, I cant even imagine how difficult it must have been for these women to tell their stories in interview with Rapp. The sad thing is as hard as it must have been for them, more often than not, modern medical systems dont usually allow these women the outlet to mourn the loss of these children in any meaningful way.

Though it did help to give doctors a universal communications tool, the decision to name medical terms in Latin served to sever the link between patients and doctors. Where one saw the mass of cells as a baby, the other saw the baby as a mass of cells (220) a mass of cells with a long name labeling and classifying it, removing its humanity. Where doctors see amniocentesis as a routine mundane procedure, patients gaze at the spot of injection as a scar, a point of invasion.

This is constantly being tied to language; doctors have named these things, they hold power over them, they not only are the curators of this technology, but they know the secret coded language that these procedures are named for. It might sound like I am romanticizing this, but when non-native English speakers have no word in their native tongue for these procedures, how are they to even think about these things coherently?

This becomes even more problematic when not only language but culture stands in the way of patients being able to speak. For women, this seems to happen in the diagnosis, the testing; for men it appears at the loss of the baby. Society charges men with being in control; the men in these narratives seem to explode with language when confronted with the authority of the doctors. When there is nothing they can do, and society tells them they are not allowed to cry, they too are silenced.

I’m not trying to be ironic when I say that I don’t know what to say to this. Are these stories getting to those who can hear them? Judging from some of the reactions of the doctors, the need to label patients, and the general air of disrespect we have been reading this semester, I wonder how much voice patients are really allowed to have.

Posted September 28, 2010 by capochetta in Uncategorized

8 responses to “The Dead Language

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  1. “Where one saw the mass of cells as a baby, the other saw the baby as a mass of cells (220) a mass of cells with a long name labeling and classifying it, removing its humanity.”

    This quote sent me back to Schiebinger’s discussion on the gendered nuances of Latinate nomenclature, and the struggle over reproductive authority. In a way, Rapp’s text is linked to Schiebinger’s arguments through her observations on the gendered and class-based repercussions of amniocentesis.

    While Rapp is witnessing the effects of over two hundred years of male-dominated gynecologic and obstetrical control, Schiebinger speaks of the beginnings of the system and its relationship to the debate over breast-feeding and wet-nurses. She notes that then (as now) decisions middle-class mothers made as to the care and well-being of their infants became a social and political moral issue, but that this same concern was not extended to the “lives of peasant women, domestic servants, female apprentices, or artisans” (74).

    To me this is an echo of the effect you noted, the disconnect of non-native English speakers trying to process language designed to obscure. It seems this is something that has been embedded in the politics of birth for a very long time.

    Schiebinger, Londa. _Nature’s Body_. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2006. Print.

    • Darnit. You beat me to it. I, too, thought of Schiebinger while reading the original post. It’s interesting to consider how much power is held over a thing—and how much confidence a person gains—simply by naming the subject matter.

      That makes translation that much more challenging in cases like Rapp’s: how dramatically is the intent, meaning, or even the topic of a discussion being changed through the process of translation. If a counselor talks about the procedure, but the translator has to use her own language to describe what the procedure is, there’s a *huge* window for potential breakdowns to occur. or shifts in emphasis to creep in.

  2. Your discussion reminds me of the anthropo-linguistic debate between linguistic relativity and linguistic determinism; that is, does our culture influence the language we use or does language shape the culture? (Personally I think it’s a combination of the two, not necessarily an either/or distinction.)

    I suppose in this case it’s more of a medical-linguistic relationship. Certainly there’s something to be said about the women who have no word for the test in their language yet still subject themselves to the test and the effects its results might produce for them and their friends and families.

    The distinction between a mass of cells and a baby definitely demonstrates two different cultural views of the same thing. In this case, the two cultures would be the professional medical community and the mothers who are subjects of the amniocentesis procedure. Someone who identifies with both cultures (i.e., a “high-risk” pregnant woman who is also a doctor for whom the Latin medical terms are not esoteric or arcane) must certainly have a unique perspective on the issue.

  3. “It might sound like I am romanticizing this, but when non-native English speakers have no word in their native tongue for these procedures, how are they to even think about these things coherently?”

    This issue is compounded when we consider the role of choice in various societies. If there’s trouble discussing what the procedure is, how on earth can we effectively emphasize the women’s ability to make a choice?

    Then again, should that be the point? As was mentioned in class last week (by Jen?), there’s something to be said for expecting the doctor to make an informed recommendation based on his expertise and training, rather than leaving the decision entirely up to the less-informed-but-more-emotionally involved woman.

  4. Let’s talk about how Emily Martin’s study perhaps challenges some of Concetta’s worries.

  5. Martin’s argument both reinforces and challenges Concetta’s concerns. The language surrounding disease (and/or immunity) shapes our relationship with and reaction to such concepts so the association of the body with war/battle language seems as if it would exacerbate our screwy identification with disease and our bodies. However, Martin’s analysis and exposure of such tropes renders such language less powerful (as she challenges it). So if we read Martin’s critique we might be better equipped to challenge such warmongering metaphors, but if not, they potentially have as much power as a missiles themselves.

  6. Pingback: Power in Words(?) « Texts and Technology of Medicine

  7. My new post is looking at this argument from the other side:

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