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Review of  Latinas' Narratives of Domestic Abuse

Reviewer: Angela Bartens
Book Title: Latinas' Narratives of Domestic Abuse
Book Author: Shonna L. Trinch
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Issue Number: 16.793

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Date: Tue, 15 Mar 2005 16:18:50 +0200
From: Angela Bartens
Subject: Latinas' Narratives of Domestic Abuse: Discrepant versions of

AUTHOR: Trinch, Shonna L.
TITLE: Latinas' Narratives of Domestic Abuse
SUBTITLE: Discrepant versions of violence
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
YEAR: 2003

Angela Bartens, University of Helsinki


The book under review is an ethnographic case study of Latina women's
norms and ways of narrating intimate-partner violence in U.S.-American
institutional settings. The main issues addressed are how the sociolegal
system produces and reproduces reality and knowledge through narrative and
how and why Latina women's narratives of abuse are altered. The speech
event where the relevant data for the ethnographic discourse analytical
approach were gathered was the protective order interview setting.


In Ch. 1, Narrating violence in institutional settings (pp. 1-14), Trinch
presents her main research questions as well as the data, a corpus of 163
protective order interviews observed and recorded in two different
locations in the U.S., identified as Anytown, AnyState, and Someville,
SomeState, in order to preserve the anonymity of the informants.

In Ch. 2, Telling the truth about violence: Language ideology and the
function of narrative structure (pp. 15-36), the author presents scholarly
conceptualizations of narrative in general and the model for "normal"
narratives as defined by Labov and Waletzky (1967) in particular. She
argues that in the U.S. sociocultural environment, the referential
function of narrative as a device for matching words to worlds, in short,
for telling the truth, is considered fundamental (p. 18).

Ch. 3., Representation, ownership and genre: Language ideologies of
narrative production and genre (pp. 37-55), focuses on the issue of
narrative authorship and ownership: in the case of protective order
interviews, as recorded in the affidavits based on them, the authorship is
divided between the narrator (the victim), and a representative of the
sociolegal system, but ownership and responsibility are exclusively
attributed to the first party.

Ch.4, Telling and re-telling: Latina narrators interacting with
institutions, focuses on the different institutions catering to battered
women in the two states from which data were gathered and which possess
somewhat different sociolegal systems. The fact that victims -- or
survivors -- have to tell their story over and over again, each time to
representatives of a different institution, is found to contribute to
first changes in the narrative. Another crucial observation is that "each
participant creates the other's identity through interaction" (p. 58).

Ch. 5, The protective order interview: A linguistic tug-of-war for
representation (pp. 87-119), deals with the general characteristics of the
discourse situation analyzed in this case study. Trinch argues that
certain non-report elements are sifted out in order to elicit a specific
genre of legal discourse as required by the law, the report genre, inter
alia featuring precise orientation clauses with specific times and dates
and organized according to the Labovian linear and temporally sequenced
narrative-type. The service providers or representatives of the sociolegal
system are found to try to keep the balance between advocacy and
gatekeeping, between victim- vs. system-oriented intervention (pp. 88-89).

Ch. 6, Disappearing acts: Power, control, opposition and omission (pp. 121-
153), portrays the interviewer or service-provider as an active
participant in the construction of the narratives of abuse. Contrary to
expectation, the section of an interview is not found to be the strongest
predictor in determining what will be written into or left out of the
affidavit: accounts of abuse elicited by interviewers are more likely to
be included in affidavits than client-initiated narrative turns (p. 143).

Ch. 7, Disfigurement and discrepancy: Taking the story out of the report
(pp. 155-190), examines the type of information that is lost between the
initial narration during the protective order interview and the subsequent
affidavit. It is argued that "the legal system not only attempts to create
victims, but also that it has a need to create a very specific type of
victim" (p. 190).

Ch. 8, Transforming domestic violence into narrative syntax (pp. 191-223),
deals with the alterations and transformations of the victim's language
production on various levels of the language system: choice of tense,
lexical, phraseological and stylistic variants as well as changes in the
global organization of the narrative (recency is an important criterion
for lending credibility to reports of domestic violence, a fact also
manifest in the protective order interview and the ensuing affidavit).
Other techniques of lending credibility to the affidavit by employing gap-
minimizing techniques on behalf of the service providers are writing the
affidavits in the first person singular and by obfuscating the use of
another language than English, in this case Spanish.

Ch. 9. Beyond the storytelling taboo: Latinas' narratives and sexual
violence (pp. 225-268), deals with the presumed cultural interdiction
among Latina women against speaking about sexuality and sexual aggression.
It is found that not all Latina women comply with this taboo and that the
account of those who talk most explicitly about sexual abuse is rendered
with less alterations in the affidavit. Interviewers are found to adapt to
the level of euphemism employed by a survivor.

In Ch. 10, the author summarizes the central findings of the study: there
are important differences between lay and institutional norms of narrating
experiences of domestic violence. A report genre characterized by
linearity, specificity of times, dates and quantities, event singularity
and recency is imposed on the oral story genre, rendering it and its
inconsistencies vulnerable to subsequent legal proceedings (p. 270).
Trinch argues that "when the dynamics of intimate-partner violence are
considered, it becomes clearer why the narratives take the forms they do"
(p. 272) and that "courts have not adequately learned how to deal with
cases involving emotional and indeterminable disputing that may come
packaged more commonly in story form" (p. 273). She continues to argue
that "having/giving voice" and being rendered silent are not mutually
exclusive (cf. p. 272) and concludes that "the reproduction of women's
powerlessness is achieved through omission, alteration, disfiguration and
distortion of their stories in order to achieve a temporary and individual
solution to the insidious and societal problem of violence against women"
(p. 278).

In addition to the chapters mentioned above, the volume contains a Table
of contents (pp. v-vi), a List of figures and tables (p. vii),
Acknowledgments (pp. ix-x), References (pp. 279-293), a Glossary of legal
terms (pp. 295-299), an Author index (pp. 301-304), and a Subject index
(pp. 305-313).


The study under review clearly reflects the influence of the work of
Trinch's mentor, Susan Berk-Seligson. It is a carefully planned and
executed case study soundly couched in present-day discourse analytic
theory and the methods of the ethnography of communication which
contributes to the diversification of the rapidly expanding field of
studies focusing on the use of language in the sociolegal system,
especially in the U.S.


Labov, W. & J. Waltezky (1967) Narrative analysis and oral versions of
personal experience. Essays on the Verbal and Visual Arts: Proceedings of
the 1966 Annual Spring Meeting of the American Ethnological Society, ed.
by J. Helm, pp. 12-45. The University of Washington Press.


Dr.phil. Angela Bartens is Acting chair of Iberoromance Philology at the
University of Helsinki. Her research interests include language contact
including pidgins and creoles, sociolinguistics and applied
sociolinguistics including language policy and language planning.