Letting go of the past in Spanish therapeutic discourse: An examination of verbs and discursive variables

Nydia Flores-Ferrán

Abstract

This article presents an exploration of several linguistic and discursive variables as they relate to behavior change obtained from psychotherapeutic motivational interviews. These interviews were conducted with native Spanish speakers, a relatively under investigated language minority group in the US with regard to this type of discourse. Using a linguistic framework, the study examines the tense, mood, and aspect (TMA) of Spanish verbs, the semantic verb type, such as desire, ability, readiness, reasons, need and commitment (DARN-C), and the context in which the verbs were produced in [+/- conflict] in narratives. Using qualitative and quantitative analyses, the study shows how shifts in verb tenses, the production of DARN-C semantic verb types, and speakers’ utterances implicitly involve an expression of change. Based on Grimshaw’s (1990) and Labov and Fanshel’s (1977) tenets regarding conflict talk in which they note that conflict involves speech acts such as defenses, retreats and challenges, and Brenneis (1996) who maintains that the contents of conflict narratives are intertwined with the “narrator, audience, purposes and expectations” (p. 42), the study shows how the presence of conflict-related narratives decreases between interviews. Namely, participants decrease the use of utterances that recount past events and events containing conflict and move in the direction of speaking about future events and less conflict as their sessions progressed.

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