An Exploration of Multilinguals’ Voice-Hearing Experiences


  • Rachel Rowan Olive Birkbeck, University of London
  • Jean-Marc Dewaele Birkbeck, University of London



Research on multilinguals’ voice-hearing, sometimes termed auditory-verbal hallucinations, is dominated by psychiatrists’ reports, skewing toward etic over emic approaches. Most also pre-dates developments in both voice-hearing and multilingualism research which highlight the complexity and dynamic nature of both phenomena and shows little cross-fertilisation between the two fields. This paper sits within this gap, presenting results from an in-depth interview study with ten UK-resident multilingual voice-hearers analysed via constructionist reflexive thematic analysis. A high proportion of participants described hearing voices they did not (fully) understand, challenging the dominance of the hypothesis that voice-hearing originates from misattributed inner speech. This set of experiences is presented along a spectrum with a complex array of associated emotions and subtle experiential distinctions. The relationship between language experiences, voices’ languages, and associated emotions was similarly complex and individual: participants described voices both reflecting and distorting or shifting the contexts, domains, interlocutors and feelings associated with their various languages. This has implications for therapeutic and peer support for those who are distressed by their voices, as well as opening up new avenues in voice-hearing phenomenology and aetiology.

Author Biography

Rachel Rowan Olive, Birkbeck, University of London

Ms Rachel Rowan Olive finished her MA in Applied Linguistics at Birkbeck, University of London




How to Cite

Rowan Olive, R., & Dewaele, J.-M. (2022). An Exploration of Multilinguals’ Voice-Hearing Experiences. Language and Psychoanalysis, 11(1), 16–40.