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Emma Putland

Linguistics, University of Nottingham

Thesis title:

Representing and responding to dementia

‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’ 

The above famous Shakespeare reference was made by a focus group member with dementia during a discussion of different word choices. Implicit in this line is the idea that language does not have the power to change an experience of the world, here the smell of a rose. Yet the individual who referenced this also noted their hurt at words such as ‘looney’ to describe people with dementia. As a discourse analysist concerned with dementia, I seek to further explore the role that language plays in our health.

Taking the view that discourses1 reflect, reproduce and help to shape our individual and collective views on the world, this thesis asks:
  • How do people with experience of dementia (lived or as a carer/loved one) situate themselves within popular discourses for dementia? 
    • How do they respond to visual and written representations?
    • How are different discourses challenged and reproduced?
  • What kinds of narratives emerge? I.e. how do people with different experiences choose to represent these to others?
My primary dataset consists of fifteen interviews and focus groups that I conducted with 51 participants, who either had dementia or were a carer/loved one of someone who did. In order to explore the above questions, I take a discourse analysis approach that aims to foreground the narratives and discursive practices of the people I worked with to consider how they choose to situate themselves and others in relation to broader social discourses. 

Through this thesis, I hope to present a more comprehensive exploration of different representations of dementia in Britain and the potential implications of such choices. I equally hope to provide a space for the voices of some of the people often marginalised by research, and yet most affected by dementia discourses, to speak out.

Discourse is a very loaded term that is used differently according to the context. Here, I define a discourse as a particular stance towards the world, which is reflected in the type of language and images used to represent people and events. Some perspectives will inevitably be foregrounded in a discourse while others are excluded.

Although we all have unique personalities and experiences that influence how we perceive things, discourses act like a cognitive kind of window, as they influence how we see people and events (Pan and Kosicki, 1993: 58-9). In doing so, discourses not only reflect and reproduce, but actually shape social processes, such as the treatment of people with dementia.

Recommended reading
Burr, V. (1995). An Introduction to Social Constructionism. London: Routledge.
Pan, Z. and Kosicki, G. M. (1993). ‘Framing Analysis: An Approach to News Discourse’, Political Communication 10: 55-75.

Research Area

  • Linguistics



Putland, E. (2020). Reading Relationships, Worlds and Reality: A Multimodal Analysis of LEGO® City and LEGO® Friends’ Homepages. Gender & Language 14(1) 73-98. Available at: https://journals.equinoxpub.com/GL/article/viewFile/37861/pdf. DOI: 10.1558/genl.37861 

Book chapter

Brookes, G., Putland, E. and Harvey, K. (2021). ‘Multimodality: Examining Visual Representations of Dementia in Public Health Discourse’. In D. Hunt and G. Brookes (eds.) Analysing Health Communication: Discourse Approaches. London: Palgrave, pp. 241-269. Available at: https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9783030681838 

Book review

Putland, E. (2021). Linguistics to Health: Diverse Methods and Contexts. Review of Zsófia Demjen (ed.) Applying Linguistics in Illness and Healthcare Contexts: Contemporary Applied Linguistics (2020). ESP Today: Journal of English for Specific Purposes at Tertiary Level 9(1) 175-180. Available at: http://www.esptodayjournal.org/pdf/january_2021/book_review/1_Emma_Putland.pdf


Putland, E. (2018). Representing dementia. Dementia Day to Day. Available at: https://idea.nottingham.ac.uk/blogs/posts/representing-dementia

Putland, E. (2019). After the PhD: Writing, Funding and Precarity. UoN Blogs: Nottingham Health Humanities: Early Bird Researcher Group. Available at: https://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/healthhumanities/2019/10/01/after-the-phd-writing-funding-and-precarity/


Putland, E. (2019). New Perspectives: for Mrs Mounter and people living with dementia. In N. Grace (ed.) New Perspectives 2019: Harold Gilman Beyond Camden Town [Zine], pp. 14-18. Available at:New Perspectives 2019 Zine.pdf



'Brains, relationships and floating leaves. The implications of visual metaphors for dementia'. The Institute of Mental Health Research Day 2021. (University of Nottingham, online, 18/05/21).

'‘Meaningful’ or ‘hopeless’? Exploring how people with lived experience respond to a biomedically-oriented visual metaphor for dementia'. BAAL Health and Science Communication SIG: Showcase Seminar Series 2021. (Online, March-July 2021).

'Seasonal changes: Visualising the progression of dementia.' Northern Network for Medical Humanities Research Congress 2021 - Medical Humanities: (In)Visibility (Durham University, online, 21/04/21-23/04/21).


‘Does a picture tell a thousand words? Sharing thoughts on visually representing dementia’. Conference of the Journal of Languages, Texts and Society. (University of Nottingham, online, 12/06/20).

‘Dementia in the media: a corpus and multimodal analysis of how dementia is represented by non-profits and newspapers in Britain.’ Corpora & Discourse International Conference 2020 (University of Sussex, online, 17/06/2020-19/06/2020).


'Reporting on Dementia'. School of English Postgraduate Symposium 2019 (University of Nottingham, 07/11/19).

'Consult the public?! What combining researcher analysis and interviewee responses can help illuminate about media representations and public understandings of (people with) dementia'. Argumenting Health Communication in a Digital Era (University of Brescia, Italy,13/09/2019).

'When Santa Forgot and Gina made Friends: Agency and identity in two British dementia charity video campaigns'. Ageing, Illness, Care in Cultural and Literary Narrative (University of Huddersfield, UK, 05/09/2019-06/09/2019).

'Ghosts, agency and cups of tea: A multimodal critical discourse analysis of two non-profit adverts' contrasting depictions of experiencing dementia'. 52nd Conference of the British Association for Applied Linguistics (BAAL)'s  Broadening the Horizons of Applied Linguistics  (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK, 29/08/2019-31/08/2019).

'Two heads are better than one: Combining methodologies to investigate current representations of, and responses to, dementia'. Institute of Mental Health's Research Day (University of Nottingham, UK, 21/05/2019).

'When Santa Forgot and Gina made Friends: How two British dementia charity video campaigns represent people with dementia and are received by members of the public'. The Stylistics and Discourse Analysis Reading Group's symposium Character Building: A symposium on constructing character and identity in real and fictional worlds (University of Nottingham, UK, 10/05/2019).

'Exploring other people's personal responses to media portrayals of dementia'. Image and Narrative: Illness, Recovery, Change Workshop (University of Nottingham, UK, 29/04/2019). 

Public Engagement & Impact

Placement with The Researcher Academy
AHRC funded, awarded £3,694.25. December 2020 - October 2021
  • I am working with a range of stakeholders (particularly the ADAPT organising committee) for this placement to develop and expand the ADAPT Together scheme. This placement involves:
    • Developing the peer mentor scheme, including through:
      • researching and evaluating the scheme, and pitching a business case to expand it, 
      • developing the infrastructure to meet the demands of a larger cohort 
      • promoting understanding of ADAPT Together, peer mentoring/support and mental health
    • Supporting the Researcher Academy's first Wellbeing Week
    • Co-organising the ADAPT Together Seminar Series for research staff
Academic engagement and impact:

Higher Education teaching and research experience
  • Teaching Affiliate for the University of Nottingham's first year undergraduate module Language and Linguistics (2019-2020)
  • Research Assistant and Teaching Affiliate for Linguistic Profiling for Professionals, University of Nottingham (2017-18)

Scholarly involvement

Funding bids
Previous conference/seminar series organising roles

Public engagement and impact:

Public talks

  • 'Heroic boys and friendly girls? Comparing how LEGO© City and LEGO© Friends represent the world and children's place within it'. Language & Emotion evening for Nottingham's Pint of Science Festival 2019 (22/05/2019). 
    • For this Pint of Science Festival, I also collaborated with a local artist, Matt Young, who gave a creative reaction to my topic in the form of a painting titled 'Boring binary'.
  • Presented for 'New Perspectives' (31/01/2019) in association with the 'Harold Gilman: Beyond Camden Town' exhibition at the Lakeside Arts Gallery, in which I discussed my research in relation to two of Gilman's paintings for a general public audience.

Voluntary roles in the community

Other Research Interests

  • Sociolinguistics, particularly regarding how science and health are communicated to the public. Especial areas of interest include mental health and the environment, as well as issues relating to factors such as age and gender.
  • Combining methodologies, such as (critical) discourse analysis, multi-modal analysis, corpus linguistics and thematic analysis. 
  • Including other people (e.g. people with lived experience and other members of the public) within research.