Trauma-Narrative Analysis at the Level of Language Typology

  • Maria Grazia Guido


This chapter analyses the influence of native language typologies on the ELF structures of West African migrants’ trauma narratives. It starts by illustrating the deliberate use of the passive voice in the transitive clause structures of Western scientific texts on PTSD in transcultural psychiatry, where trauma symptoms are collocated in a subject position whereas trauma-affected people are defocused at the end of the clause, or are totally omitted. Then, the chapter moves to the analysis of the OVS (Object → Verb → Subject) ergative structures transferred from West African native languages into the migrants’ ELF variations that they use to convey their trauma narratives—which are liable to be misinterpreted by Western experts in charge of unequal encounters as a deliberate choice to withhold information about the agents of illegal actions. Case-study evidence shows how Italian experts in charge of interview formulate questions according to the cause-effect accusative structure of their native language, typologically marking the SVO (Subject → Verb → Object) active transitive clauses in order to elicit from migrants precise information about responsible agency. The chapter also enquires into the use of ergative ‘supernatural’ personifications of objects and natural phenomena as the migrants’ strategy to cope with their impotence when overwhelming traumatic events befall them—which is believed to be at the primordial source of ergativity in Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Afro-Asiatic languages.


Language typologies Accusative and ergative event structures Migrants’ sea journey narratives Conversation moves 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maria Grazia Guido
    • 1
  1. 1.University of SalentoLecceItaly

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