The influence of context on identity construction after traumatic brain injury


  • Louise C Keegan Moravian University
  • Nicole Müller University College Cork



Identity, Systemic functional linguistics, traumatic brain injury, conversation


Objective: It has been widely accepted that positive identity construction after traumatic brain injury (TBI) results in better rehabilitation outcomes. However, there is limited information available on the linguistic resources that individuals use to construct such identities, and how the context in which they are communicating may influence this construction of self. This research uses the tools of systemic functional linguistics to examine the linguistic construction of identity in an individual with moderate-severe chronic TBI.

Method: The individual participated in two different conversations, one with a male stranger and the other with a female brain injury researcher, and the conversation transcripts were analyzed using tools of systemic functional linguistics.

Results: The identities communicated and linguistic construction of self in both contexts had many similarities. In both conversations, the participant presented a positive perspective of his post brain injury life, and he described similar relationships. Nevertheless, there were also noteworthy differences. With the stranger, he distanced himself from the topic of the injury by not discussing his pre-injury self or his injury-related difficulties. However, with the researcher, he contrasted a negative pre-injury persona with his current, improved post-injury self. Additionally, when conveying information about his relationships to the stranger he projected a more powerful and in-charge identity than with the researcher.

Discussion: An analysis of language using systemic functional linguistics can reveal important information about how individuals communicate their identity. Additionally, the identities communicated can be highly variable depending on the conversation partner, the context of the interaction, and sociocultural gender norms.

Conclusion: The results suggest that contextual influences on identity construction have important clinical implications for rehabilitation.

Author Biographies

Louise C Keegan, Moravian University

Louise C. Keegan is associate professor of speech-language pathology and associate dean of rehabilitation sciences at Moravian University, Pennsylvania, USA. Her research examines the linguistic skills of individuals with cognitive communication difficulties after brain injury, and investigates optimal treatment approaches for such difficulties.

Nicole Müller, University College Cork

Nicole Müller is professor of speech and hearing sciences at University College Cork, Ireland, and visiting professor in speech and language pathology at Linköping University, Sweden. Her research interests include clinical linguistics, bilingualism, and the cognitive-communicative consequences of brain injury and neurodegeneration.


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How to Cite

Keegan, L. C., & Müller, N. (2022). The influence of context on identity construction after traumatic brain injury. Journal of Interactional Research in Communication Disorders, 13(2), 171–195.