Welcome to the SNF-project “Language and Health Online" with the slogan "Typing Yourself Healthy.”




This project concerns itself with language that is used on the Internet in the context of (mental) health. Please explore its aims and scope on this website. The project is hosted by the English Department of the University of Basel.

In April 2016, the project organized a two-day symposium, which completed the project.

The research team is headed by Prof. Miriam Locher, who holds a Chair in the Linguistics of English at the Department of Languages and Literatures of  the University of Basel, Switzerland. The researchers employed on this project are Franziska Thurnherr, MA and Marie-Thérèse Rudolf von Rohr, MA.

Information on the project, its general aims, background and research questions can be found on this page. More information can be gleaned from these links:

LHO-Projects (Smoking cessation and email counseling)



LHO-Activities and transfer

Miriam Locher's Website


The SNF Project

This linguistic project investigates e(lectronic)-health interaction in asynchronous, written computer-mediated communication. By exploring this interface from a particularly linguistic perspective, we endeavor to contribute to a better understanding of e-health practices.

Health serves as our site of research. We investigate how health issues are communicated and how specific health related activities such as persuasion and advice are constructed.

We are specifically looking at health discourses that are performed online  – hence, they are computer-mediated. This means that any part of the communication between provider and providee is done electronically.

Finally, the project concerns itself with the language that is used to convey the communication. We research the linguistic constructions of these computer-mediated health discourses. Our focus, therefore, lies in how providees are encouraged to type themselves healthy with the help of the providers.

The project consists of two parts: “Persuasion in smoking cessation online” and “Relational work in email counseling”, which pursue joined as well as individual research questions. See LHO-Projects.



This project aims at furthering our understanding of how two particular e-health practices work from a linguistic point of view. The scientific gains will be manifold and we will contribute to all three research fields.

Our systematic analysis of public health sites and private therapeutic email interaction will help to better comprehend these e-health practices and will highlight the role of language in two particular case studies. Our focus on e-health will advance our understanding of how situational and medium factors interact in computer-mediated communication.

Second, we will add to linguistic theory on persuasion, relational work and identity construction. We will provide valuable insight into these aspects by looking at the discursive achievement of interpersonal effects. Particularly, we will analyze the interplay between relational work and identity construction, which is an emerging field of research (see Locher 2011). Bucholtz and Hall (2005: 605) argue that “identity is inherently relational”, however, how the link between identity and relational work plays out in interaction is not clear yet. Our analysis of actual language in use will shed further light on this connection.

Third, our findings will be made available to site providers and therapists as an important part of our project is to work applied. We are, for example, working on providing therapists with a linguistic perspective of their online work to complement their training in psychology.

The project consists of two parts: “Persuasion in smoking cessation online” and “Relational work in email counseling”, which pursue joined as well as individual research questions. Please see LHO-Projects for further information.



In the last decades the Internet has evolved to become an important source of information for health concerns (cf. Richardson 2005). There are many professional information sites, peer-support sites for patients, mailing lists, etc. This makes online health communication an important research field for different disciplines. The linguistic study of online health practices sheds light on how language is used to create meaningful exchanges between professionals and patients and between lay people. A linguist study of these practices is especially pertinent because e-health is predominantly a written mode, relying crucially on language. We are focusing on two areas of health practices that share an element of persuasion: Anti-smoking campaigns and smoking cessation help sites as well as email therapy contain aspects of “attempt[ing] to evoke a specific change in the attitudes or behaviors of an audience”, which is the definition of persuasion provided by Jowett et al. (1999: 28). We wish to study these ‘sites of persuasion’ as an interactive process from a linguistic perspective.

Professional health Internet sites usually have either a mandate to inform and enlighten a particular target population (cf. e.g. the national and governmental sites) and/or they have the clear aim to contribute to risk prevention and change in behavior of the target group. In a similar vein, online therapists strive to help their patients find their way through a problem by means of the ‘talking cure’, although – crucially for our project – carried out in the written mode. Language is thus exploited for persuasion to achieve these goals. While persuasive strategies on smoking cessation might be expected to be more straightforward than in the non-directive genre of therapy, it is our goal to learn what linguistic persuasion strategies emerge in the different practices. Our methodological approach is positioned within interactional discourse analysis in that we study language in use and wish to explore the variation that we encounter. We are particularly interested in interpersonal pragmatics, i.e. the study of language in use that focuses on the relational side of the practices involved. A combination of the study of the relational aspect of language with language use for persuasive means is an important combination for our research of e-health communication. It is important to stress that we are going to operationalize persuasion by looking at linguistic surface strategies as found in the practices that contain a persuasive orientation rather than looking at psychological effects of persuasive acts in the readers.

Research questions

To investigate the interactive process of persuasion in the frames of smoking cessation and therapeutic discourse, we will address the following overarching questions: 

(1) What characteristic activities are employed in the different practices (e.g. conveying information, giving advice or reflecting on interactants’ interpretations of events or relationships, inviting introspection, …)?; 

(2) What linguistic strategies are employed to achieve these activities?; 

(3) What is the relation between the patterns of linguistic strategies and the creation of interpersonal effects (e.g. solidarity, empathy, power, the therapeutic alliance)? The close collaboration and continual exchange of results between both parts of the project will provide important insights into the dynamic, discursive construction of two online health communication practices from a distinctly linguistic perspective, will add to linguistic theory in the field of interpersonal pragmatics, and will be useful for practitioners.


LHO-Projects (Smoking cessation and email counseling)



LHO-activities and transfer

Miriam Locher's Website