What Do You Expect? Linguistic Reflections on Empathy in Science Communication

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2439

Article | Open Access

What Do You Expect? Linguistic Reflections on Empathy in Science Communication


  • Nina Janich Institute of Linguistics and Literary Studies, Technische Universität Darmstadt, Germany


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Abstract:  This linguistics article, which draws additionally on interdisciplinary insights, discusses whether and to what extent more empathy could facilitate and promote the exchange of knowledge between science and society. The existence of the Internet as a knowledge resource has made it necessary, especially in online communication, to renegotiate (scientific) expertise and roles such as ‘expert’ and ‘layperson.’ A discourse linguistics case study of a science blog shows that these negotiations quickly take on the character of an emotionally charged relationship between writer and respondent and are by no means limited to the level of fact or disinterested scholarly debate. The reason for this—so this article argues—is that reciprocal expectations and expectations of expectations play an essential role in science communication, as in any social communication. This hypothesis is supported by an analysis of interviews with scientists about their expectations of the public’s understanding of science. Against this background, empathy seems to be a suitable means to better meet the expectations of one’s interlocuter (or at least to avoid disappointed expectations) and to move from a more emotional level back to a more rational one. Empathy and its role in science communication should therefore be investigated more closely—on an interdisciplinary basis.

Keywords:  discourse linguistics; emotionality; empathy; expectations of expectations; science communication

Published:   18 March 2020


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/mac.v8i1.2481


© Nina Janich. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.