Science and language in J.-M. Charcot's neurological works: A compositional and linguistic experiment applied to scientific historiography

Liborio DIBATTISTA and Lucia DI PALO
Seminario di Storia della Scienza, Dipartimento di Filosofia Università di Bari, Italia

Aims and purposes: This work, whose main feature is experimental, sets to locate, by computational and linguistic tools, a technical, specific language in neurological domain, considering Charcot's corpora textual analysis. A language that purposes to be a conceptual frame, able to reflect the described object, a stylistic symbol, Charcot's "syntactic-semantic" signature. So these linguistic and technical elements can be considered a proof (at least in France) of the birth of Neurology as a specific branch, distinct from medical and general Pathology.

Materials and methods: The first 3 volumes (1873, 1877, 1887, ed. by Delahaye and Lecrosnier) of Charcot's complete works were reduced in machine readable form, scanning them, in succession corrected and formatted. INTEX, a software produced by Max Silberstein at LADL (Laboratoire d'Automatique Documentaire et Linguistique), University of Paris 7, was, subsequently, applied.

Preliminary results:

  • Analysis of frequency lists where lemmas appear as elements of Charcot's neurological topics. The first substantives that occur in the texts are: "malade", its plural form "malades" and "maladies". They totalize 1402 occurrences. In succession, in accordance with the frequency list, there are: "nerf", "nerveux" (1210), "membre". This textual analysis points out Charcot's way to intend nervous diseases clinic. It's interesting to observe that "malade" and "malades" are conjugated at the feminine form, on the other hand, Charcot's job milieu is feminine - la Vieillesse Femme - a hospital where women are the main subjects, whose typical symptom is motor paralysis and following results are muscular atrophies with medulla lesions, generally nerve's lesions. This is the anatomical-clinical model.
  • Analysis of ambiguous terms, not recognized by INTEX. It's a question of lexical items not acknowledged in Neurology specific lexicon, because they refer to syndromes and diseases, refused by the modern medicine. But, in a sense, they emphasize "l'histoire périmée" (the history) in Charcot's works, as for instance the affection of the ovaries doctrine and its rich linguistic vocabulary.
  • Following researches foresee an analysis of sanctioned language, investigating a particular set of lexical items and linguistic structures that founded Neurology as an autonomous branch.


Poster Session

Fifth Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Providence, Rhode Island, USA