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Linguistic Manifestations of Power in Suicide Notes : an Investigation of Personal Pronouns

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Author(s)
Roubidoux, Susan M
Advisor(s)
Gales, Tammy
Degree
MA, English
Date
May 2012
Subject(s)
Suicide - psychological aspects; Causative linguistics; Corpora linguistics
Abstract
The characteristics of the decision to commit suicide suggest that it is a powerful one: it is active, finite, and, studies have shown, actually improves the individual's mood upon making the decision (Barnes, Lawal-Solarin and Lester; Handelman; Lester). However, while there have been studies on the characteristics of powerful people and studies on suicide, existing studies have not linked power and suicide. One way to do this is to look at the ways in which power manifests in the language of individuals intending to commit suicide--most often found in the form of a suicide note. Stemming from the relative lack of linguistic research on suicide notes, this study asks how individuals who intend to commit suicide display linguistic manifestations of power in suicide notes and whether the linguistic manifestations of power found in the notes can be used as indicators of genuine intent to commit suicide. One common way that people have been found to linguistically demonstrate power is through various uses of personal pronouns (i.e. more first-person active pronouns than first-person passive pronouns, more singular pronouns than plural pronouns, and more exclusive than inclusive pronouns). Thus, the first phase of the study, based on the hypothesis that those intending to commit suicide are empowered by their decision and demonstrate such power in their suicide notes through their heightened use of first-person active pronouns and decreased use of inclusive pronouns, examines both the presence and functionality of first/third and singular/plural personal pronouns. The second phase of the study, based on the hypothesis that linguistic manifestations of power provide patterns that could become indicators of genuine intent to commit suicide, compares the linguistic manifestations of power through the use of pronouns in suicide notes of completed suicides to the linguistic manifestations of power in simulated suicide notes to determine if the various use of personal pronouns may be indicators of genuine suicidal intent. By connecting the established psychological studies of powerful personality traits and the established linguistic studies of language and power, this study opens up a previously unstudied area of suicide notes, benefiting not only the study of suicide prediction and prevention, but also adding to the study of language and power.
Description
A Thesis Submitted In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements For the Degree of Masters of Arts - English
Permanent link
http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1793/62261 
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