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Understanding family violence and system responses - Penry Williams & Stebbins.pdf (572.85 kB)
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A common language and shared understanding of family violence?: Corpus-based approaches in support of system responses to family violence

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-07-17, 07:59 authored by Cara Penry WilliamsCara Penry Williams, Tonya StebbinsTonya Stebbins
Family violence is an enduring social problem with devastating impacts. The Victorian Government (Australia) Royal Commission (state inquiry) into Family Violence (rcfv) noted that language is implicated in the under-reporting and under-recording of violence, and emphasised the importance of agencies having ‘a common language’ and ‘shared understanding’ of family violence. Our analyses examine written submissions to the rcfv for frequencies and collocations, focussed on the construction and roles of human referents. We utilised corpus-assisted discourse analysis to explore whether community service and law-based professional bodies do have common vocabularies and if these represent shared ideas, responding directly to agendas set by those involved. Our analyses show key differences but also uncover a shared lack of agency given to victims and a loss of focus on the role of those who inflict these forms of violence. We argue for the utility of corpus linguistic methods to show empirically how language is used to construct conceptualisations of family violence across key sectors of the service system. We intend this research as a starting point for discussion between professionals working to improve cross-sector communication, by bringing linguistic insights to this deep-rooted social issue.


The authors would like to acknowledge and thank La Trobe University's Discipline Research Program Grant Scheme for its financial support of the early stages of this project and Alan Healey from La Trobe University for his work on preparing the texts for the corpus.


Publication Date



Corpora: corpus-based language learning, language processing and linguistics






32p. (p. 65-96)


Edinburgh University Press



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This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Edinburgh University Press in Corpora. It is published here under a Dreative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC) licence: The Version of Record is available online at: