Person-ness of Voices in Lived Experience Accounts of Psychosis: Combining Literary Linguistics and Clinical Psychology

Article Summary by Elena Semino, Demjen Zsofia and Luke Collins

A substantial minority of the general population and a considerable majority of people with diagnoses such as schizophrenia hear voices that other people cannot hear—a phenomenon that is sometimes described as a type of hallucination. Psychologists have noticed that reports of voice hearing differ in the extent to which voices are described as social agents, or, in other words, as people with individual characteristics, goals and behaviours. In this paper we point out that there are remarkable parallels between psychological classifications of voices and literary-linguistic descriptions of characters in fiction. We show how the kind of analyses that linguists have developed to study characters can be usefully applied to voice hearers’ descriptions of their voices. This has potential implications for therapies designed to help people who find their voices distressing.

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Elena Semino PortraitElena Semino is Professor of Linguistics and Verbal Art in the Department of Linguistics and English Language at Lancaster University, and Director of the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science. She is a Fellow of the RSA and of the UK’s Academy of Social Sciences, and holds a Visiting Professorship at the University of Fuzhou in China. She specializes in health communication, medical humanities, corpus linguistics, stylistics, and metaphor theory and analysis. She is author of Metaphor in Discourse(Cambridge University Press, 2008) and lead author of Metaphor, Cancer and the End of Life: A Corpus-based Study(Routledge, 2018). She is Principal Investigator on the project ‘Questioning Vaccination Discourse: A Corpus-based Study’ (Quo VaDis).



Zsofia Demjen PortraitZsófia Demjén is Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics at University College London. Her research areas include health communication, medical humanities and illness discourse, specifically depression, psychosis, cancer, and vaccination, and her methods include discourse analysis, corpus analysis, stylistics, and metaphor analysis. Zsófia aims to develop new understandings of how linguistic choices can be: vehicles for expressing the lived experience of illness; indicative of mental disorders; sources of evidence of attitudes towards health(care); and tools for community-building among people with similar conditions. She is author of Sylvia Plath and the Language of Affective States: Written Discourse and the Experience of Depression(2015, Bloomsbury), co-author of Metaphor, Cancer and the End of Life: A corpus-based study (2018, Routledge), editor of Applying Linguistics in Illness and Healthcare Contexts (in press, Bloomsbury), and co-editor of The Routledge Handbook of Metaphor and Language (2017).

Luke Collins PortraitDr Luke Collins is a Senior Research Associate with the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science at Lancaster University. His work applies approaches from corpus linguistics and discourse analysis to areas of healthcare communication, including first-person accounts and media representations.

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