Scientific Thought-styles: the evolution of English medical writing

The project aims at describing stylistic changes in medical English in a long diachronic perspective in a multifaceted sociohistorical framework: in addition to anchoring texts in their generic and sociolinguistic context, we study linguistic phenomena in relation to scientific ideologies.

For our research material, we are compiling a computer-readable Corpus of Early English Medical Writing. The results obtained from several studies show that this new approach is fruitful and that variability in language reflects a complex network of underlying parameters. For a comprehensive diachronic description further studies are needed, but some lines of development are gradually beginning to emerge, and we have reached a stage where some level of synthesis is possible. Individual members of the project have adapted the methodological frame to their own research purposes.

Project members

Project leaders

Project members

Current research assistants

  • Aatu Liimatta (University of Helsinki)
  • Sami Koskinen (University of Helsinki)

Past members

  • Martti Mäkinen 
  • Raisa Oinonen
  • Heikki Rajala

The edited volume Medical and Scientific Writing in Late Medieval English by Cambridge University Press came out in 2004. Edited by Irma Taavitsainen and Päivi Pahta, the volume showcases the use of modern linguistic methods in the study of Medieval manuscript material. The book includes contributions by Päivi Pahta, Irma Taavitsainen, Claire Jones, Juhani Norri, Martti Mäkinen, Ruth Carroll, and Linda Ehrsam Voigts.


A volume of studies on Early Modern medical writing will come out in January 2011. Published by Cambridge University Press, Medical Writing in Early Modern England (eds. Irma Taavitsainen and Päivi Pahta) will feature studies based on the EMEMT corpus as primary material. The volume will include contributions by Päivi Pahta, Irma Taavitsainen, Peter Murray Jones, Turo Hiltunen, Ville Marttila, Maura Ratia, Carla Suhr, Jukka Tyrkkö, Rod McConchie, Anne Curzan, Martti Mäkinen, Maurizio Gotti, Bethany Gray and Douglas Biber.


In 2010, the team wrote the book Early Modern English Medical Texts: Corpus Description and Studies (Benjamins, Irma Taavitsainen and Päivi Pahta eds.). The book is sold with the EMEMT corpus, and provides detailed background information on the corpus, the corpus software, and medical writing in the 16th and 17th centuries. The book features contributions by Irma Taavitsainen, Päivi Pahta, Belén Méndez-Naya, Raymond Hickey, Paul Rayson, Alistair Baron, Turo Hiltunen, Anu Lehto, Ville Marttila, Heikki Mikkeli, Raisa Oinonen, Maura Ratia, Carla Suhr, and Jukka Tyrkkö.

The Corpus of Early English Medical Writing (CEEMW)

In 2005, the project released the first part of the CEEMW corpus, a collection of medical treatises from 1375-1500. Shorter texts are included in toto and longer treatises are represented by extracts of approximately ten to twelve thousand words. This medieval section contains about 500 000 words and includes all editions of medieval medical texts that we know of and have had access to. The corpus was edited by Irma Taavitsainen, Päivi Pahta and Martti Mäkinen and was published on a CD-ROM as the Corpus of Middle English Medical Texts (MEMT) by John Benjamins. This database can be used to accompany the Scientific and Medical Writings in Old and Middle English Writings: An Electronic Reference compiled by Linda Voigts and Patricia Kurtz (2000). The corpus comes with MEMT Presenter, a custom-adapted corpus tool by Raymond Hickey.

More about MEMT in CoRD.

The next part of the corpus, Early Modern English Medical Texts (EMEMT), was published by John Benjamins at the end of 2010. At 2 million words, EMEMT covers the next two centuries of medical writing from 1500 to 1700. The corpus was be edited by Irma Taavitsainen, Päivi Pahta, Turo Hiltunen, Martti Mäkinen, Ville Marttila, Maura Ratia, Carla Suhr, and Jukka Tyrkkö, with the assistance of Anu Lehto, Alpo Honkapohja, and Raisa Oinonen. The corpus is sold on CD with EMEMT Presenter by Raymond Hickey. EMEMT is bundled with a full-length book featuring extensive background information on Early Modern medicine, the corpus itself, and the corpus software.

More about EMEMT in CoRD.

Work has already started on Late Modern English Medical Texts (LMEMT). The corpus will cover the 18th century, a period of considerable interest in terms of both scientific and linguistic developments. We are currently finihsing the XML editing of the texts and compiling the accompanying metadata. The members of the current LMEMT team are Irma Taavitsainen, Päivi Pahta, Turo Hiltunen,Ville Marttila, Maura Ratia,Carla Suhr, Jukka Tyrkkö, and Anu Lehto, with the assistance of Aatu Liimatta and Sami Koskinen.

More about LMEMT in CoRD.