Heidi E Hamilton




Department of Linguistics
General profile


+1 202-687-6098



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Research Statement
Beginning with my doctoral dissertation work on language and Alzheimer's disease, I have spent my life in linguistics exploring the interrelationships between language and a variety of health care issues and contexts. My early work on Alzheimer's disease, as most fully represented in my first book Conversations with an Alzheimer's Patient: An Interactional Sociolinguistic Study (Cambridge University Press, 1994), is generally recognized as the first work in the area of language and Alzheimer's disease to depart from the clinical paradigm with its experimentally-elicited data. By basing my analyses on the language of open-ended, naturally-occurring conversations, it was my aim to understand language disability as a human problem within multiple linguistic and social contexts. Glimmers, a general interest book on these issues, was published by RiverWood Books in 2003. My current book project is entitled Knowing in Dementia: Navigating Everyday Challenges of Epistemics and Face.
My passion for understanding the mutual effects between language and human health - how language use affects health as well as how health affects language - has encouraged me to reach across disciplines, both to the scholarly literature and to practitioners. Such collaborations have included work with speech and language pathologists in the Defense Head Injury Project at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.; with physicians, nurses, and hospital administrators in an investigation of professional communication issues within Georgetown University Medical Center (the "Hospitalk" project); with Georgetown Medical Center's genetic counselors in an examination of the discourse of such counseling; and with the Interdisciplinary Team on Health Literacy at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis. In addition to these projects, I also teach discourse analysis and sociolinguistics at medical and nursing conferences; served from 1999-2007 as a linguistics consultant on more than 50 studies with CommonHealth LP, a health care communications company; serve regularly as advisor to health professional recipients of grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH); and am on the board of editors of the journal Communication & Medicine. My most recently completed project in this area was as editor (with Wen-ying Sylvia Chou of the National Institutes of Health) of the Handbook of Language and Health Communication, published 2014 in the Routledge Handbooks of Applied Linguistics series. In 2015, the second edition of the Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Discourse Analysis was published (co-edited with colleagues Deborah Tannen and Deborah Schiffrin).

To illuminate some of the issues involved in such cross-disciplinary work and to promote discussions on real-world applications of linguistics, I co-organized the Georgetown University Round Table on Languages and Linguistics with my colleague, Dr. James E. Alatis, on the topic of Language, Linguistics, and the Professions: Education, Journalism, Law, Medicine, and Technology in March 2000. The volume of selected papers presented at this Round Table was published by Georgetown University Press in 2002. Other cross-disciplinary projects include my single-authored Doing Discourse Analysis across Disciplines and joint publications on Genetic Counseling as Discourse (co-authored with counselors Benkendorf and Prince). As I have carried out this work, I have consistently sought to relate it back to the students in Georgetown's Department of Linguistics, either in the form of research groups or integrated into my coursework. Over my twenty-six years at Georgetown, I have specialized in teaching graduate courses in discourse analysis, ranging from basic-level courses on the analysis of narrative and conversation to higher-level courses and doctoral seminars exploring life stories, intertextuality, written discourse, language and aging, institutional discourse, and medical discourse.

Major awards include the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Linguistics in Innsbruck, Austria and DAAD Gastdozentin in Berlin, Germany. For the past forty-plus summers, I have taught German and carried out research at the K-12 language and cultural immersion programs of Concordia Language Villages in northern Minnesota.


  • German (speak, read, write)