Communication & Medicine, Vol 10, No 1 (2013)

Stress management: Corpus-based insights into vernacular interpretations of stress

Laurel Smith Stvan
Issued Date: 16 Feb 2014

Abstract


Examination of the term stress in naturally occurring vernacular prose provides evidence of three separate senses being conflated. A corpus analysis of 818 instances of stress from non-academic texts in the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) and the Corpus of American Discourses on Health (CADOH) shows a negative prosody for stress, which is portrayed variously as a source outside the body, a physical symptom within the body and an emotional state. The data show that contemporary speakers intermingle the three senses, making more difficult a discussion between doctors and patients of ways to ‘reduce stress’, when stress might be interpreted as a stressor, a symptom, or state of anxiety. This conflation of senses reinforces the impression that stress is pervasive and increasing. In addition, a semantic shift is also refining a new sense for stress, as post-traumatic stress develops as a specific subtype of emotional stress whose use has increased in circulation in the past 20 years.

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DOI: 10.1558/cam.v10i1.81

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