Scholastic Argumentation in Early English Medical Writing and Its Afterlife: New Corpus Evidence

In: From Data to Evidence in English Language Research


This article presents an exploratory data-driven corpus study in a long diachronic perspective on three specialized corpora of medical writing; this is the first time that the eighteenth century is included. Our research questions deal with the scholastic thought style in medical texts, its stylistic and generic features, and its afterlives. Our assumption is that these features continue in some form beyond their heyday. But this study has a methodological aim as well: it is of interest whether scholastic features can be detected by means of Document Classification and whether the method yields new insights and patterns that have gone unnoticed, as data-driven methods have the potential of revealing pertinent features. We combine statistical analysis with qualitative assessments and contextualize our results by discussing the sociohistorical and sociolinguistic backgrounds of texts and their authors and audiences, as best results are often achieved by triangulation.

We were able to answer all our research questions in the affirmative. The method proved fruitful and showed the importance of an argumentative strategy with the complementizer because, not mentioned in the literature before. The development of the scholastic tradition in medicine underwent some changes: the connotations and attitudes may have changed and become more critical, but scholasticism had an afterlife that lasted for centuries.


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