Beyond Last Words: Patterns of Linguistic and Interactional Behavior in a Historical Sample of Dying Hospital Patients

Michael Erard*

*Corresponding author for this work

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1 Citation (Web of Science)


Patterns of linguistic and interactional behavior by people at the very end of their lives are not well described, partly because data is difficult to obtain. This paper analyzes descriptions of 486 deaths gathered from 1900 to 1904 in the first-ever clinical study of dying by noted Canadian physician, Sir William Osler. Only 16 patients were noted speaking, and only four canonical last words were reported. The most frequent observation by medical staff was that the deaths were quiet (n = 30), though range of other behaviors were noted (e.g., moaning, delirium, seeming intention to speak). Osler's problematic study left behind data whose analysis is a small step toward empirically characterizing the linguistic and interactional details of a previously under-described phenomena as well as the importance of the social context in which they occur.

Original languageEnglish
Article number00302228211000938
Pages (from-to)1089-1107
Number of pages19
JournalOmega-Journal of Death and Dying
Issue number3
Early online date15 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023


  • language
  • interaction
  • dying
  • William Osler
  • speech

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