Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Death-related discourse in assisted living facilities

Death-related discourse in assisted living facilities

Nadia Maraachli

This paper examines the communication styles found in assisted living facilities (ALFs) when discussing the death or process of dying of a resident. ALFs are places of community care for senior citizens needing assistance with daily activities and with end-of-life processes. The main focus of the paper is to understand how staff members discuss dying amongst themselves, with the dying resident and with the resident’s family members through the use of metaphor, circumlocution, and silence. Very few scholars have looked at death-related discourse in relation to what goes on in assisted living facilities. Current literature review of the linguistic research on death discourse, and interviews with six staff members in a southeastern Michigan ALF were used. The findings show that discussions between staff members frequently use taboo words about the dead or dying resident. Discussions between staff members and family members of the dying tend to employ the use of metaphor, circumlocution and euphemism. Discussions between staff and residents about their death or dying do not typically occur. This article also discusses the issues in discourse of not having definitions for key terms in ALFs. Many key words do not have concrete, agreed upon definitions. This work highlights the need for more in-depth ethnographies of ALFs as well as linguistic studies in death-related discourse. 

April 18, 2012 - Posted by | abstract


  1. Nadia- Looking forward to reading your paper! I am interested to see if the terminology, personal word choices, and shared metaphoric constructions, used in elder care differ regionally. This could be the basis for a really big project. All the best with where it takes you!

    Comment by Siobhan Gregory | April 23, 2012 | Reply

  2. This sounds very solidly put together, and I want to read it. There’s a clever hook in using the word “taboo” that makes me want to ask you to give an example of such taboo words, but “you gotta keep them wanting more” they say. I appreciate also that you did both theoretical and fieldwork. There’s a very pronounced intellectual trend these days to talk about models of models, rather than to actually go and look at the world. Well done.

    Comment by Snow Leopard | June 13, 2012 | Reply

  3. Interesting. I am currently writing an Annual Report for a Catholic aged care provider. The topic of death is little touched upon, not surprisingly, but when it is the language is either very matter of fact or uncomfortable and “circumlocutious”. I think the paper is an interesting concept.

    Comment by Entwisle Tim | November 17, 2012 | Reply

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