Words that wound, words that heal - Interview with Sara Greco


Institutional Communication Service

13 June 2022

The conference "Domestic Violence and Language", offered as part of "Convergence and Distance," a cultural project devised by the USI Faculty of Communication, Culture and Society, has been held in the USI Auditorium on 16 May. The evening stemmed from the opportunity to present the volume "Lo stile dell'abuso. Violenza domestica e linguaggio" (The style of abuse. Domestic violence and language) in which Raffaella Scarpa, professor of Medical and Clinical Linguistics at the University of Turin, analyses the phenomenon of domestic violence from the perspective of language. According to this study, a series of markers form a kind of "discourse style" that is identifiable in cases of violence, a style by which the abuser tries to reduce the abused into a state of subjugation and inferiority.

We met with Sara Greco, associate professor of argumentation at USI's Institute of Argumentation, Linguistics and Semiotics (IALS) and vice-dean of the Faculty of Communication, Culture and Society, whom we asked to explain more about the Convergence and Distance project, but also how language can be a tool to prevent violence and abuse.

Professor Greco, how did the Convergence and Distance project come about, and what gave rise to the evening on Domestic Violence and Language?

The Faculty of Communication, Culture and Society sought this project to bring together people from different institutions and create and deepen the link with the region and the community. A way for the University to open its doors is through participation and co-construction of cultural moments, such as the one in mid-May.

The conference was organised with the joint effort of people from different institutes such as the Institute of Italian Studies, the Institute of Media and Journalism, the Institute of Law and the Institute of Argumentation, Linguistics and Semiotics, as well as the Equal Opportunity Service, and thus bringing about not only interdepartmental but also interdisciplinary collaboration. The occasion of the 16 May conference was the release by Treccani of the volume "The Style of Abuse" by linguist Raffaella Scarpa. The book is a linguistic analysis of the phenomenon of domestic violence based on interviews with abusers and abused, in this case, women, although we know that victims are not always women.


In what ways is it possible to detect "violent" language? Conversely, is it possible to prevent violent behaviour by being aware of such language?

Violence is a fact, and among the interesting aspects to study is how we resort to that and, therefore, what happens first. What happens beforehand is often not physical, but it is also a language mechanism in which one of the two people is victimised through precise rhetorical choices and structures that are repeated and therefore detectable. This aspect is interesting because it gives us perspective on the study of language and communication. By paying attention to certain linguistic and discursive phenomena, we can realise how relationships based on abuse are constructed. This, in essence, is Scarpa's thesis.


Is it possible to prevent violent behaviour by knowing the language, or can one only intervene after the event has occurred?

What is being done at USI, which is also the focus of my research, is research about restoring conflict through dialogue: how can one intervene when there is conflict? How can dialogue be an alternative to conflict? This broadens the perspective of violence and helps understand how it is possible to intervene afterwards, for example, through conflict mediation, a method entirely based on communication and dialogue. On these issues, there has been a collaboration between the IALS institute and the IDUSI institute for quite some time now, combining the linguistic-argumentative perspective and the legal perspective on issues such as mediation and restorative justice.

Certainly, however, the topic of domestic violence raises further questions for us about the effectiveness of a dialogic approach to violent situations in this area. How far can the dialogic approach go? These questions remain open and will be the subject of further research.