The language of pain


The expression ‘pain’ refers to a phenomenon intrinsic to individuals. The object of the language of pain is restricted to an individual experience which excludes any form of direct access by others. Speaking about pain is thus one of the most difficult forms of linguistic activities, as has been repeatedly pointed out by Wittgenstein. The difficulties involved in this type of communication are not only dependent upon individual linguistic ability but are also clearly reflected in the state and structure of the linguistic means which are at the disposal of the speakers of a language. Linguistic means vary in status and complexity with respect to the ends which they can be used for.

In this paper, I discuss two aspects of communicating pain: types of expression which are involved in speaking about pain, and linguistic activities which are carried out when speaking about pain. The two aspects are interrelated. My analysis makes use of categories belonging to the theory of linguistic activity and to the extended field theory of language (an expansion of Bühler's concept of symbolic and deictic field analysis of language).

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I thank Angelika Redder and Zsuzsa Baross for their critical comments, and I am grateful to Cony Guhl for her help with the English version and to Martina Liedke for technical assistance.

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Ehlich, K. The language of pain. Theor Med Bioeth 6, 177–187 (1985).

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  • Field Theory
  • Individual Experience
  • Direct Access
  • Field Analysis
  • Extended Field