Miriam Locher's Website

The SNF-project team “Language and Health Online” organized a two-day symposium:

Language and Health Online: Typing yourself healthy

April 15-16, 2016

University of Basel, Switzerland 

In the last decades the Internet has evolved to become an important source of information for health concerns. There are many professional information sites, peer-support sites for patients, mailing lists, online counselling services, and so on. In these contexts, language plays a central role in how health issues are communicated and how health-related activities such as shared decision-making, collaboration, or persuasion, are carried out. Internet users are encouraged to type themselves healthy through language with the help of peers or professionals.

Covering a broad range from mental and medical health issues to healthy life style concerns, the symposium aims to explore how language is used in e-health practices:

- To construct the patient-doctor/client-therapist relationship
- To persuade users of healthy lifestyle changes
- To give support among peers (e.g. in online support groups)
- To establish trust  in peer-to-peer and in professional-lay contexts
- To create expertise by lay people and professionals
- To talk about specific illnesses and health risks
- To adapt content and language for target groups (kids, teenagers, adults, particular conditions, etc.)
Invited keynote speakers:
Nelya Koteyko, Queen Mary University London (confirmed)
Wyke Stommel, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen (confirmed)
Elizabeth Sillence, Northumbria University Newcastle (confirmed)

The symposium provides a platform for researchers and practitioners from different disciplines such as linguistics, psychology and anthropology, as well as the public to share findings and insights concerning e-health communication. By engaging in a dialogue with researchers from different fields we work towards a better understanding of e-health practices overall, which can be of use and interest to health practitioners as well. This symposium is going to be the endpoint of the SNF-funded research project “Language and Health Online” (NGK1912).

Scientific Committee:
Najma Al Zidjaly (Sultan Qaboos University), Jo Angouri (University of Warwick), Pilar Garcés-Conejos Blitvich (UNC Charlotte), Cynthia Gordon (Syracuse), Kevin Harvey (Nottingham), Andreas H. Jucker (Zurich), Miriam A. Locher (Basel), Peter Schulz (Lugano)  


The conference booklet of abstracts can be downloaded here [PDF (1.1 MB)].


Report on symposium by Franziska Thurnherr

The members of the SNF-project “Language and Health Online”, organized an international research symposium on how language is used in health discourses that are taking place online. The symposium aimed to bring researchers and practitioners from various disciplines together to exchange the newest insights from research that centers around the three fields of language, computer-mediated communication, and health.
The symposium was visited by 46 researchers and practitioners from 11 countries, who gave 27 oral and 4 poster presentations. Additionally, 20 students of the University of Basel profited from attending an international research event and gaining first-hand experience of such an academic event.

Three keynote speakers that are prominent in the intersecting research niche of language use in e-health reported on their newest research projects: Dr. Elizabeth Sillence from the Northumbria University, UK, elaborated on how trust can be built in online interactions concerning health. Dr. Nelya Koteyko, Queen Mary University London, talked about how language is used to create identity in Facebook groups centering around health. Finally, Prof. Dr. Wyke Stommel from Radboud Universiteit in the Netherlands described how closings of online counseling sessions were jointly negotiated.

10 thematic sessions ranged from metaphor use, illness narratives, a panel on HIV/AIDS, to the establishment of experience, expertise and trust in health discourses. In these thematic sessions, researchers presented their newest results from studies: Nadine Chariatte (University of Bern, Switzerland), for example, presented her work on how South Africans use emoticons and graphic signs when talking about HIV/AIDS on Facebook. Anna-Malin Karlson (Uppsala University) and Mats Landqvist (Södertörn University) showed differences in language use by experts and lay people when discussing heart defects of toddlers. Martina Breuning from the University of Freiburg i.Br., Germany, reported on how insights from previous studies have informed the construction of peer videos that are used to help patients talk about their illnesses.
The symposium also allowed us to present our own research conducted during the duration of the Language and Health Online-project. Miriam Locher introduced the project overall, highlighting methodological steps and elaborating on some of the results of our joint research questions, such as the similarities and differences of narrative functions found in the three e-health practices we research. Marie-Thérèse Rudolf von Rohr presented her findings with regards to how relational work and identity construction were used as discursive tools to persuade relapsing smokers to continue their quit journey. Franziska Thurnherr illustrated how a counselor works collaboratively with clients to resolve the counseling process by acknowledging the client’s improvement and regained independence from the therapeutic alliance.

At a closing roundtable, the participants discussed various implications of the research presented at the symposium. Questions such as how perspectives from various disciplines on the same subject could be better integrated and how researchers can and should make their insights available to practitioners were discussed.

All in all, the symposium was a vibrant exchange of ideas, methodologies, and research results from many different disciplines. The focus on language and e-health allowed us to have in-depth discussions and exchanges that enriched everyone’s interest in the specific field and many of the attendees expressed a desire to continue with such an event on language and health online in the future.

We would like to thank all the participants and presenters for their attendance and for sharing their ideas, insights and research results with us. Their invaluable contributions and enthusiasm made the symposium not just a platform to exchange research, but also a place to connect with colleagues who share an interest in online health discourse and a passion to contribute to improving e-health practices. We’d also like to thank the Englische Seminar and its staff for their support, especially Sixta Quassdorf, Denise Kaufmann and Carmela Cudemo. Additionally, we thank all our sponsors for making the symposium possible and allowing us to end our project on such a positive note.

The LHO-Team

 Left to right: Marie-Thérèse Rudolf von Rohr, Nelya Koteyko, Liz Sillence, Wyke Stommel, Miriam Locher, Franziska Thurnherr


 We thank the following institutions for their generous support:


The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF)

The English Department of the University of Basel (Englisches Seminar)
The Herman Paul School of Linguistics (HPSL)

VALS-ASLA: Swiss Association for Applied Linguistics

SAGW: Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences     
Department of Languages and Literatures (Uni Basel)


LHO-Projects (Smoking cessation and email counseling)


LHO-activities and transfer


Miriam Locher's Website