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The Unspeakable: Narratives of Trauma

Magda Stroinska, Vikki Cecchetto and Kate Szymanski

How does a trauma survivor communicate «what can’t be said out loud» to others? In what form? How can we – readers, listeners, viewers – recognize the pain and suffering hidden behind words, pictures, or other artifacts produced by trauma survivors? This volume presents a possible response by bringing together the «expressions of the unspeakable» by trauma survivors and the interpretation of researchers in various fields, i.e. clinical psychologists, linguists, anthropologists, literary and film scholars, historians, and visual artists, some of whom are survivors of trauma. By describing or analyzing different strategies for finding a narrative form for expressing the survivor’s trauma, the contributors offer not only insights into how the survivors dealt with the pain of traumatic memories but also how they were able to find hope for healing by telling their stories, in literature, graphic novels, visual art or simply by creating a personal narrative in their own voice.
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The Trauma of Culture Shock


Barbara Chettle


Refugee language experience includes the issues of how to talk about the trauma they suffered in their country, the constraints on this process, and other problems, which may compound the trauma, related to language, such as language loss and the difficulties of language learning. Not every refugee wishes or is able to talk about his/her trauma history. Although culture shock itself is not a type of trauma, it may intensify the trauma associated with becoming refugees and with immigration because it involves separating a person from the known community. Talking about trauma can be therapeutic. Not speaking the language of the new country creates a barrier to healing as much as it creates a barrier to employment and isolates immigrants. Language learning can be very difficult for refugees, especially for women with young children. Evidence from the participants in the study described below indicates that at least some of them were able to work through stages of culture shock and so adjust in some degree to their new country. One of the reasons for this was being part of a supportive community where the mother tongue is spoken and some other elements of the original culture are retained. This freed the immigrants from linguistic and social isolation and allowed them to retain some of their original identity.

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