The Importance of Language for Nursing

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SCHOLARLY PAPER

THE IMPORTANCE OF LANGUAGE FOR NURSING: DOES IT CONVEY COMMONALITY OF MEANING AND IS IT IMPORTANT TO DO SO Sonia Allen, RN, RM, Grad Dip Hlth Sc (Community), BHSM, MACS, PhD Candidate, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Gippsland Campus, Monash University, Victoria, Australia. sonia.allen@med.monash.edu.au Associate Professor Ysanne Chapman , RN, PhD, MSc(Hons), B Ed (Nsg), GDE, DRM, MRCNA, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Gippsland Campus, Monash University, Victoria, Australia. Professor Margaret O’Connor, RN, DN, MN, B Theol, FRCNA, Vivian Bullwinkel Chair in Palliative Care Nursing, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Peninsula Campus, Monash University, Victoria, Australia. Professor Karen Francis, PhD, MEd, M Hlth Sc PHC, Grad Dip Uni Teach/Learn, BHlthSc(Nsg), Dip Hlth Sc, RN, Professor of Rural Nursing, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Gippsland Campus, Monash University, Victoria, Australia. Accepted for publication January 2007

Key words: language, communication, nurses, patients, meaning, understanding.

ABSTRACT
Objective: Language is the medium by which communication is both conveyed and received. To understand and communicate meaning it is necessary to examine the theoretical basis of word conceptualisation. The determinants of understanding language however are somewhat elusive and idiosyncratic by nature. This paper will examine briefly the development of language and how language is used in the health care setting, while recognising that nursing is an internationally recognised profession. Setting: In nursing, language is used to facilitate quality care and inform and educate recipients of that care. In today’s somewhat litigious society, it is essential that what is transmitted is commonly interpreted by nurses and patients alike. Questions are posed relating to an elitist language for nurses and its placement for communicating with other health care professionals. Primary argument: Through exploring language with a small group of nurses, this paper alludes to consumer expectations; how nurses use a common language; and where and

when they move toward a more elitist communication. The paper examines consumer expectations of health care communication and how it facilitates consumer choice and the quality care agenda.

Conclusion: Communication for the nursing profession poses a challenge as there are differing requirements for specific situations. Nurses acknowledge that language facilitates commonality of understanding and hence meaning. An elitist language when communicating with other health professionals does exist within specialist units, though where commonality of language ends and an elite language begins is difficult to determine. Language does elicit power and authority when educating and communicating with patients while proving difficult in the context of international global nursing requirements.

INTRODUCTION

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anguage provides our human lifestyle with a rich tapestry of ways to communicate meaning and understanding within our present day society. Max Muller (Lederer 1991) the philologist states that ‘… language is the Rubicon [boundary or limitation] that divides man from beast’. Heidegger (1971, pp.191192) expands this discourse further by stating ‘…that we

Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing

2007 Volume 24 Number 4

SCHOLARLY PAPER

are prisoners of our language, [and that] … language speaks … speech is regarded as an activity of man’. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (Stumpf and Firser 2003; Lederer 1991) in his early works proffers ‘… the limits of my language… are the limits of my mind. All I know is what I have words for’. Yet words by themselves do not communicate meaning. Language as a communication tool dates back to Egyptian hieroglyphics and Greek mythology for it...
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