Language and gender in political debates in the House of Commons
This thesis investigates the linguistic practices of politicians in one of the oldest and most powerful of all British institutions: the House of Commons. After the general election of 1997 record numbers of women were elected to parliament. This rapid increase in women's representation led to much speculation in politics and the media about how new women MPs would adapt to and change British politics. At the same time it is clear that men and women MPs are not treated equally. Women are marginalised by sexist barracking within the chamber and portrayed negatively by the media. Theoretical and methodological insights gained from language and gender research are used to explore whether this inequality extends to the differential access to and use of linguistic resources by women and men in the debating chamber. The central questions of the thesis are: what factors contribute to a participant being more or less powerful in this context, and how salient is gender to the construction of that power? Viewing the debating chamber as a 'Community of Practice' (Eckert and McConnell-Ginet 1992), and drawing upon the insights of MPs from interview data, I describe the interactional norms of the House of Commons as part of the ethnographic approach to this research. Using data from a 60-hour video corpus of House of Commons speech events I then undertake an analysis of floor apportionment in debates. I identify adversarial linguistic features in parliamentary question time sessions and examine their use by women and men. I also undertake an analysis of the functions and use of humour and irony in the debating chamber. Finally, a comparative study is undertaken with the Scottish Parliament. I describe the parliamentary procedures and historical development of the Scottish Parliament before analysing floor apportionment, the use of adversarial language, and humour and irony in this forum.