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Title: Apologies in the discourse of politicians : a pragmatic approach
Author: Murphy, James
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2014
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In this thesis, I analyse apologies produced by British political figures from a pragmatic perspective. In particular, I seek to explain the function of political apologies and describe the form they take. In order to give a thorough account of the speech act of apologising in the public sphere, I look to a variety of genres for data. The set of remedial acts scrutinised in this study come from debates and statements in the House of Commons, the Leveson Inquiry and news interviews. The differences in communicative practices between these data sources mean that the types of apology that come about within each genre are varied. Many of the parliamentary apologies are monologic, whereas the apologetic actions found at the Leveson Inquiry and in news interviews are dialogic and, to some extent, co-constructed between participants. These differences mean that a variety of theoretical approaches are taken in analysing the data – speech act theory (Austin, 1962; Searle, 1969) and generalised conversational implicature theory (Levinson,2000) feature heavily in the discussion of monologic apologies. Apologies produced within an interactive, ‘conversational’ setting are treated using developments in conversation analysis (amongst others see: Sacks, 1992; Schegloff, 2007). I attempt to reconcile these two, quite different, approaches to discourse at various points in the thesis, arguing that conversation analysis lacks a theory of how interlocutors understand what actions are happening in interaction (and this is provided by speech act theory) and speech act theory lacks a detailed focus on what actually happens in language as interaction (provided by conversation analysis). On the basis of the apology data scrutinised in the thesis, I propose a set of felicity conditions for the speech act of apology (chapter 2) and discuss how the apology (and speech acts broadly) should be considered as prototype entities (chapter 8). I show that when apologising for actions which they have committed, politicians are more fulsome in their apologies than we are in everyday conversation. I also show that they use more explicit apology tokens than is found in quotidian talk (chapter 3). When apologising for historical wrongs, I demonstrate that apologising is a backgrounded act and the focus of the statement is on being clear and unequivocal about the nature of the offences for which the government is apologising (chapter 6). I also argue that political apologies in interactive settings are best thought of as action chains (Pomerantz, 1978). That is to say, apologies in these environments may elicit a response from an interlocutor, but do not need to (chapters 4 & 5). This is quite unlike everyday talk (cf Robinson, 2004). I discuss how apology tokens may be used in the performance of other acts, including introducing dissent and undertaking serious face threat. I suggest that this comes about because apology tokens exist on a cline of pragmaticalisation (chapter 7).
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: apologies, remedial actions, political discourse