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Newspeak for epidemiologists
  1. Clarence C Tam
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr C C Tam
 Infectious Disease Epidemiology Unit, Department of Epidemiology and Population Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London WC1E 7HT, UK; clarence.tam{at}

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Our limited vocabulary should not constitute a prescriptive curriculum, but instead point to our insufficiencies and our need to expand the field of epidemiology

 In summation, I have only one question: is Latin dead?
 Max Fischer1f

It is said that the Canadian Inuit have more than 50 words for “snow”, but none for “pollution”. In fact, the romantic idea that the Inuit can differentiate between 50 types of snow is not strictly true; the multitude of snow words is related to the way in which suffixes are sequentially added to root words in the Inuktitut language to create new expressions. Nevertheless, this idea serves to show that, although in certain cultures we have many words to describe things that are relevant to our everyday experiences, we tend to lack words for concepts with which we are unfamiliar. To give another example, there is apparently no formal term for “dyslexia” in the Chinese language, a condition that is described with a four-character phrase

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roughly translating as “reading impairment”. This is partly due to the relatively recent recognition of reading dyslexia in Asian countries, itself related to the lower prevalence of this condition in these settings.2 This example is interesting because it highlights cultural differences in dyslexia and because the terms themselves tell us much about how meaning is constructed in different languages. Recent evidence shows that different parts of the brain are affected in reading dyslexia among Chinese as compared with English school children.3 The higher prevalence of reading difficulties among speakers of alphabetic languages such as English is thought to be in part due to the fact that letters must first be processed into sounds, and combinations of letters into combinations of sounds that carry meaning. English poses particular difficulties at an early age, because of …

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  • Competing interests: CCT is an epidemiologist and is frequently exposed to inappropriate use of (epidemiological) language, which he himself imposes upon his peers. The translations of the Jaime Breilh text are all his own.

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