Recognizing English contact induced features in medical texts

Csilla Keresztes (University of Szeged)

In some speech communities the prestige and socio-economic dominance of English as a foreign language (EFL) can create quite unexpected language contact effects that affect the native language. This paper observes how physicians and medical students in Hungary are influenced by their knowledge of English language in proofreading medical texts.

In the twentieth century the growing dominance of English and its much closer contact with other languages of Europe developed due to new means of communication. The result was a very free and versatile linguistic borrowing of English words by European languages, including the Hungarian language. This phenomenon can be observed in various spheres of everyday life but can be best detected in the field of sciences, especially in the field of medicine. Although this influence occurs mostly in the appearance of English loanwords in Hungarian, it can be detected at all levels of the language and identified in various interference categories: orthographic interference, the use of borrowed words and abbreviations, grammatical interference, and semantic interference. Identifying these language contact effects and their interpretation in the light of contrastive linguistics can help us understand cross-linguistic influences.

Hungarian medics tend to use many English-Hungarian contact induced features when they use Hungarian for professional purposes. I examined controlled processing of visual stimuli by making Hungarian medical doctors and students at one medical school in Hungary proofread Hungarian medical texts, which were mimicking medical research articles and contained several English contact induced features. Participants had limited time for proofreading the texts. They were asked to underline anything in the text that they would change provided these texts were submitted for publication. The type of "errors" they had to look for was not identified.

At the end of the proofreading task participants had to fill in data concerning their sex, age, knowledge of the English language (self evaluation between 0-5; 5 being the highest level), amount of exposure to the English language, and whether they had taken part in the English-Hungarian Medical Translator course optionally available to them during their university studies.

Participants of the Translator course tended to identify more "errors" than non-participants. There is also a direct correlation between the subjects' knowledge of and exposure to English and the number of spotted contact features. Non-translator professionals with high level (4 or 5) knowledge of English did not tend to identify instances of English interference, not even English words which have Hungarian equivalents, and kept the original English orthography. Age was also of relevance in the distribution of the results as subjects between 30 and 40 spotted the fewest number of items.

While these findings are drawn from a group of speakers of one speech community, the results offer insight into a largely unexplored type of language contact, the one resulting from English as a global lingua franca. The findings presented in this paper might shed light on the need for further research to show what effects EFL exposure can have on the language use of speakers in their native language.