Bridging the Gap in Common Ground When Talking about Voices

Research output: Chapter in Book/Published conference outputChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Despite the negative impact of voice-hearing often being bound up in what is said, there has been a distinct lack of attention paid to exploring the linguistic content of voices and/or the language voice-hearers use to describe their experiences. In this chapter, I will take a close look at how voice-hearers in the Voices in Psychosis (VIP) transcripts use language non-literally in order to convey their complex experiences, and what that might tell us about the nature of voice-hearing experiences, as well as about the function of different forms of figurative language. The topic of figurative language is a vast area of debate and theorizing, with many different accounts of what is involved. For my purposes here, it suffices to say that figurative language is a way of talking about something (the primary subject/topic or tenor) by using words or phrases that do not typically, conventionally, or literally refer to that thing (the secondary subject or vehicle). Although they are often treated as synonyms, I take ‘figurative language’ to be a slightly narrower category than ‘non-literal language’. In other words, all instances of figurative language are instances of non-literal language, but not vice versa. Metaphors and similes are both instances of figurative language, and hence also of non-literal language. However, hyperbole (exaggeration) and approximation are non-literal, but they are not fully figurative in my sense (they could be described as ‘loose use’, or ‘less than literal’). An understanding of figurative language requires a more complicated and lateral inference than simply understanding that someone is overstating for effect (hyperbole) or drawing a close approximation. That is, in part, why figurative language is so widely used in literature: it is a more adventurous use of language. It is more open to communicative failure, or to being interpreted differently by different people, but the pay-off can be great, with metaphors having the potential to yield rich and open-ended interpretations.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationVoices in Psychosis
Subtitle of host publicationInterdisciplinary Perspectives
EditorsAngela Woods, Ben Alderson-Day, Charles Fernyhough
Number of pages8
ISBN (Electronic)9780192898388
Publication statusPublished - 8 Sept 2022

Bibliographical note

© Angela Woods, Ben Alderson-Day, Charles Fernyhough, and the contributors listed on pages xvii–xvii, 2022. This is an open access publication, available online and distributed under the terms of a
Creative Commons Attribution – Non Commercial – No Derivatives 4.0
International licence (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0), a copy of which is available at


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