Regaining a place from which to speak and be heard: In search of a response to the “violence of voicelessness”

  • Brigitta Busch Department of General Linguistics, Stellenbosch University
Keywords: trauma, resilience, voice, displacement, precarity, heteroglossia, linguistic repertoire, lived experience of language


This paper is concerned with linguistic vulnerability to man-made trauma, displacement, and exclusion, as well as with strategies of resilience that valorise socially-depreciated resources within the linguistic repertoire. It focuses on an interview carried out within a transdisciplinary project which – from a medical, a psycho-therapeutical and a linguistic perspective – addressed interrelations between multilingualism, trauma and resilience. A close reading of the biographical narrative raises three main points. First, how a life in permanent precarity and suspense is lived as “violence of voicelessness” (Anthonissen) – as the loss of any acknowledged position from which one can relate oneself to the world by social action and interaction. Second, how the pressure of exclusion contributes to re-invoking earlier traumatic or stressful experiences. Finally, how (sometimes unexpected) linguistic resources can strengthen resilience. Such resources include an awareness of the potential that lies in what I would call a “heteroglossia of survival”, in the possibility of mobilizing means of expression associated with the semiotic dimension of language (Kristeva), and in the struggle for recognition through which it becomes possible to re- position oneself, to regain a place from which to speak. 
IV. Research notes