Jul 15th 2022

TB and Linguistics


Commentary by Beauty Umana

Linguistics is the scientific study of language. Sociolinguistic scholars see language as playing a prominent social role, symbolizing aspects of human values, behaviours and interactions. They study how language shapes constructions of social realities, how words may be used or paired to realise these realities, and the different meanings or intentions underlying such pairings. For example, what makes speakers choose one word over the other and what do they hope to achieve with that choice of word?

Linguistics has been applied in health research by scholars to inquire on language in HIV/AIDS (1,2) and multilingualism and healthcare in Nigeria (3). In TB, sociolinguistics can provide an alternative lens to understanding the values and norms underlying scientific and populist TB discourses. The analytical tool of discourse analysis – when applied to not only conversations but additionally documents such as news articles or policy briefs – can unravel how language patterns shape specific ideas about health and health care, depending on the contexts in which those discourses unfold. There is potential for linguistics and in particular sociolinguistics to identify problematic (and useful) framings of the TB, and to illuminate pathways by which alternate language patterns can support alternate responses to the disease.


  1. Antia, Bassey & Razum, Oliver. (2012). HIV/AIDS messaging in Germany and Nigeria: A corpus linguistics study. Stellenbosch Papers in Linguistics PLUS. 41. 1-23.
  2. Antia, Bassey. (2009). Language, HIV/AIDS and stigmatisation in Nigeria.
  3. Antia, Bassey & Bertin, Fankep. (2004). Multilingualism and healthcare in Nigeria: A management perspective. Communication & medicine. 1. 107-17.
  4. Baker, C. (1992). Attitudes and Language. Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
  5. Gumperz, J. (1986). Introduction. In Gumperz, J and Hymes, D. (eds.) Directions in Sociolinguistics: The Ethnography of Communication: 1-25.

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