“Cancer Is Friend”: A Cognitive and Cultural Study of Cancer Metaphor in Thai

Worawanna Petchkij and Krisadawan Hongladarom

Chulalongkorn University, Thailand

WS132: Cultural Values and Language Behaviour: Focus on Asia

It is well known that metaphors reflect how language users understand or think about a given concept. Having cancer is an experience that some patients have to face, but it is quite difficult for them to communicate with the doctors effectively, since they often lack basic medical knowledge and technical vocabulary about what is happening inside their bodies. Based on conceptual metaphor theory (Lakoff and Johnson 1980) and cultural analysis of metaphor (Quinn 1991), this research aims to investigate how Thai cancer patients conceptualize their disease through their uses of metaphors in both spoken and written language. Various works suggest that war metaphor is most commonly found in cancer discourse. This metaphor shows that cancer is perceived in a negative way as an enemy who needs to be defeated and destroyed with high technology weapons such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy. However, according to our data, uses of metaphor do occur in Thai cancer patients’ language in such a way that cancer is regarded not only as an enemy but also as a friend, a germ, and others. Friend metaphor reflects the way cancer is conceptualized as someone whom one needs to take care of and live with until the end of his life. This metaphor seems to be related to the basic Buddhist belief in the law of karma in Thai society. It also plays an important role in coping and dealing with suffering experiences of cancer patients. Germ metaphor seems to be related to the exogenous concepts of illness, objectification of illness and preferred categories for causes of disease in lay person found in anthropological works (Herzlich, 1973; Gwyn, 2002; Blaxter, 1983) Friend metaphor as demonstrated in Thai cancer discourse is a good example of how people in Buddhist culture perceive cancer and how cultural analysis is useful for metaphor study.

Session: Workshop (part 2)
Cultural Values and Language Behaviour: Focus on Asia
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 18