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Henry's voices: the representation of auditory verbal hallucinations in an autobiographical narrative
  1. Zsófia Demjén1,
  2. Elena Semino2
  1. 1Department of Applied Linguistics and English Language, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK
  2. 2Department of Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Zsófia Demjén, Department of Applied Linguistics and English Language, The Open University, FELS, Stuart Hall, Level 2, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, UK; zsofia.demjen{at}


The book Henry's Demons (2011) recounts the events surrounding Henry Cockburn's diagnosis of schizophrenia from the alternating perspectives of Henry himself and his father Patrick. In this paper, we present a detailed linguistic analysis of Henry's first-person accounts of experiences that could be described as auditory verbal hallucinations. We first provide a typology of Henry's voices, taking into account who or what is presented as speaking, what kinds of utterances they produce and any salient stylistic features of these utterances. We then discuss the linguistically distinctive ways in which Henry represents these voices in his narrative. We focus on the use of Direct Speech as opposed to other forms of speech presentation, the use of the sensory verbs hear and feel and the use of ‘non-factive’ expressions such as I thought and as if. We show how different linguistic representations may suggest phenomenological differences between the experience of hallucinatory voices and the perception of voices that other people can also hear. We, therefore, propose that linguistic analysis is ideally placed to provide in-depth accounts of the phenomenology of voice hearing and point out the implications of this approach for clinical practice and mental healthcare.

  • Linguistics
  • Mental health care

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