Beyond disease: A conceptual analysis of the language and origins of the meaning of AIDS in a sociohistoric and medical context

Clinton A Gould, University of Pennsylvania


As an interdisciplinary and conceptual analysis, this study examines the explicit and implicit significance of the meaning of AIDS, during the first phase of the epidemic, as it is revealed by language in the medical and popular presses between 1980 and 1986. This study inquires into the dimensions of the socio-historic and medical contexts in which the latent and culturally ambiguous elements of language operate in order to establish the origins of the "meaning" of AIDS. Conceived as an extended essay, this dissertation examines the connections between language and the medical, cultural, socio-historic and epidemiological contexts in which how and what is codified and identified by language as disease and how these concepts are perceived as a result of identification and interpreted as "meaning." Specifically, this study examines: (1) the clinical and historical aspects of AIDS, (2) the emergence of the language of AIDS in its medical and socio-historic origins, (3) the implications of the perceptions of cause, transmission and risk, (4) the problems in the conceptualization of AIDS as a disease, (5) the metaphorical and symbolic meaning of the language of AIDS, and (6) the analagous disease metaphors which operate in the language and meaning of AIDS. The methodology consists of a guided, open-ended, qualitative and interpretative content analysis of articles about AIDS from 1981 to 1986 in medical and scientific journals, popular magazines and newspapers. This study concludes that the meaning of AIDS is not solely derived from the medical facts about AIDS but rather from the medical facts and their connotations as they combine with deeply rooted symbolism and cultural attitudes about medicine, religion, and society in emerging patterns of meaning in social discourse. It concludes that what AIDS means is as much the "text" of AIDS as it is relative to the language experience.

Subject Area

Language arts|Science history|Public health|Social structure

Recommended Citation

Gould, Clinton A, "Beyond disease: A conceptual analysis of the language and origins of the meaning of AIDS in a sociohistoric and medical context" (1990). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9026567.