Sociolinguist Peter Torres PhD


I study the language of sociocultural health issues through the combination of prosodic, corpus, and discourse-analytic approaches. 

My applied sociolinguistic research aims to advance our understanding of the role language plays in the sociocultural construction of health issues in written and spoken discourses. My current work unpacks the language of pain in the context of the American opioid crisis, focusing on the two most prominent settings in which the epidemic is addressed: policies and medical interactions. Specifically, I draw on phonetic and corpus-based discourse analytic approaches to uncover the language policymakers use in fighting the crisis and how physicians and patients discursively negotiate, reinterpret, and enact such policies in consultations. Thus, my study offers both a top-down (policies) and bottom-up (interactions) perspective into how communities linguistically address the crisis.

I am also investigating the role of race, gender, privilege, and cultural perceptions of pain in everyday discourses surrounding opioids. Specifically, I look at how pain is linguistically represented by patients and how these representations influence physicians’ prescribing practices. This line of questioning provides insight into structural and institutional inequities embedded within medical interactions and the discursive approaches to potentially mitigate them.

I had my start in research examining the complex participation frameworks between the elderly with dementia and their caregivers. Often, the elderly with dementia co-construct their utterances with their caregivers to convey messages, a communicative practice that makes linguistic exploration even more relevant. At the time, I was an undergraduate at UCLA, learning that at the core of every paper I write must be knowledge creation.

For my master’s thesis at UC Davis, I combine phonetic and sociolinguistic inquiries to examine patients’ voice quality when describing their chronic pain, narrating symptoms, and requesting opioids. Unlike bruises or cuts, chronic pain symptoms are not always visible, so patients have to rely on speech to describe their suffering to physicians. Similarly, physicians must rely on patients’ verbal descriptions of pain and suffering to make important pain management decisions. This study expands the breadth of phonetic analysis within the domain of discourse analysis, informing discussions surrounding the illocutionary role of the lower vocal tract in expressing emotions.

My dissertation brings my body of work full circle—employing both qualitative and quantitative approaches to dissect the linguistic representation of the opioid epidemic in the two most prominent areas in which this cultural issue is discussed: governing policies and their enactments within doctor-patient interactions.

My other research interests include language variation, language and gender, language socialization, language documentation, and Filipino.


Torres, P.J., (2023). Face-saving strategies and the burden of opioid policy enactments: When physicians’ compliance makes patients non-compliant. Journal of Pragmatics 205, 122–136

Torres, P.J., (2022). Modality and interpretive spaces in policies. In B.A. Diaz & R.W. Schrauf (Eds). Applying linguistics in health research, education, and policy: Bench to bedside and back again. 141-168. Links: De Gruyter Mouton. 

Torres, P. J., (2022). The Nation’s Fix: The Language of the Opioid Crisis (Order No. 29212652). Available from Dissertations & Theses @ University of California; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses A&I. (2708236876). Links: Proquest

Torres, P.J., (2021). The role of modals in policies: The US opioid crisis as a case study. Applied Corpus Linguistics. Links:Elsevier | Kudos

Torres, P. J., Henry, S. G., & Ramanathan, V. (2020). Let’s talk about pain and opioids: Low pitch and creak in medical consultations. Discourse Studies 22(2). 174-204. Links: Sage Publication Kudos PubMed | ePuB Download link

Henry S.G., White A.E., Magnan E.M., Hood-Medland E.A., Gosdin M., Kravitz R.L., Torres P.J., & Gerwing J. (2020) Making the most of video recorded clinical encounters: Optimizing impact and productivity through interdisciplinary teamwork. Patient Education and Counseling. 103(10). 2178-2184. Links: ScienceDirect 

Torres, P. J., (2015) “Iráhü táu ában funátu kápa” (“The Boy with a Red Cape”), The International Journal of Garifuna Creative Writing 3(1).


Jan 5-8
Denver, CO
Discourse analytic approaches in bridging policies with local implementations

Discourse and Public Policy Organized Session

97th LSA Annual Meeting

Jan 6-9, 2022
📍Washington DC
“Creak and low pitch as prosodic features for misery and pain”

Conference Presentation
2022 Linguistic Society of America (LSA) Annual Meeting

🧷 Elizabeth Dayton Award in Sociolinguistics

June 4, 2021
📍Virtual Conference
"Webinar: Publishing in the Language and Public Policy Section of Language”

Linguistic Society of America (LSA)

March 20-23, 2021
📍Virtual Conference
“Analyzing modality in policy text: How California policies respond to the opioid crisis”

Conference Presentation
2021 American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL) Annual Meeting

March 3, 2021
📍Virtual Conference
“The language of opioid policies”

Short Presentation/ Lightning Talk
2020/2021 Advancing Pain Relief Symposium

January 7-10, 2021
📍Virtual Conference
"‘Under the influence’ of opioid policies: configuring interpretive spaces through language"

Conference/Panel Presentation
2021 Linguistic Society of America Annual Meeting

Dec 5, 2020
📍 Twitter
(Virtual Conference)
“One too many plural(s): Taglish code-switching”

2020 Brazilian Association of Linguistics' Linguistweets (First International Twitter Conference on Linguistics)


April 7, 2020
📍Davis, California
"We can, we should, we must, and we will fight the opioid crisis”
UC Davis Gradslam Finalists
July 17, 2019
📍Davis, California
"If I may, shall we address pain or should we focus on addiction: A talk about the language of opioid policies."
Peter's LSA Three Minute Thesis

2019 Linguistic Society of America's 3MT (Three-Minute Thesis Competition)

 🧷 Runner Up

July 14, 2019
📍Davis, California
"Enacting opioid policies in text and speech: A multi-'modal' type of fix"
Peter's LSA Poster Academic Poster Example

Conference Poster
2019 LSA Linguistic Institute

June 26, 2019
📍Davis, California
“Modality in policy text: How California addressed the opioid crisis"
LSA Public Policy Panel.jpg

2019 Linguistic Society of America Institute

🧷 Workshop: Local in Language Policy

May 24, 2019
📍Davis, California
"When heroin was a hero and solutions created problems: The discourse of opioid policy enactments"

Conference Presentation
6th Annual UC Davis Symposium on Language Research

November 14-18, 2018
📍San Jose Convention Center
(Remote Participation)
"Immigrant speech in healthcare: Ideologies and intelligibility"

Conference Presentation
2018 American Anthropological Association Annual (AAA) Meeting

May 25, 2018
📍University of California, Davis
"'On a Scale of 1 to 10, How much pain are you in?' Conversations on chronic pain and controlled substances"

5th Annual UC Davis Symposium on Language Research: Most Innovative Panel

🧷 Runner Up

April 6, 2018
📍University of California, Los Angeles
"Register shift as a pragmatic resource: Manifesting pain in medical consultations"

Conference Presentation
24th Annual Conference on Language, Interaction, and Culture (CLIC)

March 10, 2018
📍Georgetown University
"Discussing opiates in medical consultations: Expressing pain, mitigated questions, implicit requests and formulating credibility"
Peter Torres GURT-Poster

Conference Poster
Georgetown University Roundtable on Languages and Linguistics (GURT): Approaches to Discourse

February 8, 2018
📍Davis, California
"Low pitch and creaky voice as linguistic resources: Describing pain, narrating symptoms, and requesting for opiates in medical interactions"

UC Davis Gradslam

April 22-23, 2016
📍University of California, Los Angeles
"Memory loss is not identity loss: The complex language participation frameworks of the elderly with dementia"
Peter CLIC Conference Presentation

22nd Annual Conference on Language, Interaction, and Culture (CLIC)