Disambiguating the use of common terms across related medical fields

the problem of 'intervention'


  • Adam Smith Macquarie University
  • Aleisha Davis Macquarie University




Audiology, Collocation, Corpora, Intervention, Medical terminology, Semi-technical vocabulary


Medical terminology can cause problems of communication both between professionals in related fields and between medical professionals and their patients. Generic medical terms labelled as ‘semi-technical’, such as treatment, are often polysemous and, therefore, present potential difficulties that need to be addressed by medical dictionaries and term banks. This paper will look at the problems caused by the term intervention as related to the treatment of children with hearing loss. The broad application of the term, in both a clinical/medical context and a general one, opens up the possibility of misunderstanding for professionals and patients alike. The efficacy of using corpora as a means of assessing the importance of a particular term is widely acknowledged. In addition, researchers
such as (L’Homme, A Lexico-semantic Approach to the Structuring of Terminology. CompuTerm 2004—3rd International Workshop on Computational Terminology, 2004) have emphasised the importance of corpus data in establishing the network of associations that common terms may have in specialised fields. This study will first identify the prevalence of the specialist uses of intervention in general corpora, and then present the findings from a c.260,000-word corpus composed of academic papers published between 2000 and 2014 on the topic of intervention for children with hearing loss. It will demonstrate the centrality of the term to this field of medical discourse, present the range of meanings and collocations associated with it, and propose lexicographical approaches to clarifying the uses of this and similar semi-technical terms.


Chung, T.M., and I.S.P. Nation. 2004. Identifying technical vocabulary. System 32: 251–263.

Cowan, J.R. 1974. Lexical and syntactic research for the design of EFL reading materials. TESOL Quarterly 4: 389–399.

Davis, A., Harrison, E. and Cowan, R. A (in review). Systematic Review of Studies of Early Interventions for Developing Spoken Language in Young Children with Hearing Loss.

Ding, J., Peters, P. and Smith, A. (2015) The Construction of Online Health TermFinder and its English–Chinese Bilingualization In Kosem, I., Jakubic?ek, M., Kallas, J., Krek, S. (eds.) Electronic lexicography in the 21st century: linking lexical data in the digital age. Proceedings of the eLex

conference, 11–13 August 2015, Herstmonceux Castle, United Kingdom. Ljubljana/Brighton: Trojina, Institute for Applied Slovene Studies/Lexical Computing Ltd., pp. 123–135.

Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary (31st ed., 2007). Philadelphia: Elsevier: Saunders.

Farrell, P. (1990). Vocabulary in ESP: A lexical analysis of the English of electronics and a study of semitechnical vocabulary. CLCS Occasional Paper No. 25. Trinity College, Dublin.

Hadlow, J., and M. Pitts. 1991. The understanding of common health terms by doctors, nurses and patients. Social Science and Medicine 32: 193–196.

Koch-Weser, S., W. Dejong, and Rima E. Rudd. 2009. Medical word use in clinical encounters. Health Expectations 12: 371–382.

L’Homme, M-C. (2004) A Lexico-semantic Approach to the Structuring of Terminology. CompuTerm 2004—3rd International Workshop on Computational Terminology.

Menon, S., and J. Mukundan. 2010. Analysing Collocational Patterns of Semi-Technical Words in Science Textbooks. Social Sciences and Humanities 18 (2): 241–258.

Macquarie Dictionary (7th ed., 2017). Sydney: Macquarie Library Pty. Ltd.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary (online version).

Nation, I.S.P. 2001. Learning Vocabulary in Another Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Oxford English Dictionary. (online version).

Oxford Living Dictionaries https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/.

Trimble, L. 1985. English for Science and Technology: A Discourse Approach. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Wang, J., S. Liang, and G. Ge. 2008. Establishment of a Medical Academic Word List. English for Specific Purposes 27: 442–458.



How to Cite

Smith, A., & Davis, A. (2018). Disambiguating the use of common terms across related medical fields: the problem of ’intervention’. Lexicography, 4(1), 63–80. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40607-018-0038-x