What is it about?

The study shows how linguistic analysis allows us to understand the vocal cues that patients use in various contexts. The findings show that patients lower their pitch and use creaky voice when discussing morally fraught topics, such as expressing chronic pain and requesting opioids.

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Why is it important?

Unlike bruises or cuts, the symptoms of chronic pain are not always visible, and so patients resort to vocally reporting their suffering and symptoms to their physicians. Because treatment decisions are often based solely on the patients’ verbal manifestations of pain, the way patients linguistically discuss pain to establish credibility and warrant opioid prescription is essential. The opioid crisis has brought stigma to the discussion of controlled substances, which has made requesting opioids a fraught process within the medical setting. (1) Awareness of the discourse functions both low pitch and creak serve, and (2) recognizing register shifting could signal the physicians to divert the discussion towards pain management goals. From a technological standpoint, it is more probable that future linguistic technology could enable physicians to keep records of how patients speak in specific contexts as part of medical notes.


I hope this article provides readers with an understanding of how Linguistics relates to the world. The opioid crisis in the United States has affected countless lives. It is, therefore, imperative that as many fields contribute to the understanding of medical communication involving opioids as possible.

Dr. Peter Joseph Torres
Arizona State University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Let’s talk about pain and opioids: Low pitch and creak in medical consultations, Discourse Studies, December 2019, SAGE Publications, DOI: 10.1177/1461445619893796.
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