Author logo Language and power

What do the examiners say?
What is it all about?
Persuasive techniques in language
Influential power - advertising
Advertising and special lexis
Grammar and advertising
Semantics and advertising
Pragmatics and advertising
Discourse structures in advertising
Finding more
Influential power - politics
Political rhetoric
Parliamentary language
Special lexis in politics
The sound bite
Influential power - media
Lexis and semantics in the media
Pragmatics in the media
Grammar in the media
Structures in media texts
Influential power - culture
Instrumental power - law
The lexicon of law
The structures of legal language
Instrumental power - education
Classroom management
Instrumental power - business
Special lexis in business
Forms of address in business
Business discourse structures
Corporate language
Specimen exam questions
Example texts with interpretation
Printing and copying this guide


This guide is written for students who are following GCE Advanced level (AS and A2) syllabuses in English Language. This resource may also be of general interest to language students on university degree courses, trainee teachers and anyone with a general interest in language science.

On this page I use red type for emphasis. Brown type is used where italics would appear in print (in this screen font, italic looks like this, and is unkind on most readers). Headings have their own hierarchical logic, too:

Main section headings look like this

Sub-section headings look like this
Minor headings within sub-sections look like this

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What do the examiners say about this subject?

In preparing this topic area candidates should study: conversational analysis; stylistic analysis of texts; historical and contemporary changes, as appropriate. In particular they should examine:

  • influential power (e.g. advertising, politics, media, culture)
  • instrumental power (e.g. law, education, business, management)..

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What is it all about?

One obvious feature of how language operates in social interactions is its relationship with power, both influential and instrumental. Neither rule nor law, neither discipline nor hierarchy sanctions influential power. It inclines us or makes us want to behave in certain ways or adopt opinions or attitudes, without obvious force. It operates in such social phenomena as advertising, culture and the media. (Strictly, we are not coerced into buying what the advertiser shows us, nor will we suffer any penalty for our "sales resistance".) Instrumental power is explicit power of the sort imposed by the state, by its laws and conventions or by the organizations for which we work. It operates in business, education and various kinds of management. (In many, but not all cases, if we resist instrumental power, we will be subject to some penalty or in trouble.)

Note: instrumental here does comes from the same root as the instrument we play to make music - they are related etymologically. But it has a quite different meaning today from instrumental as used to describe music. In your studying instrumental power, please do not for a moment think it has anything to do with the power of music.

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In some spheres of social activity, such as politics or law, both kinds of power may be present at the same time:

  • we are subject to laws (enforced by penalties), but
  • some legal processes, such as trial by jury, rely on attempts to persuade.

Politicians impose laws, taxes, and bureaucratic systems (instrumental power) but seek to influence us to endorse their policies or turn out to vote for them (influential power). They may wish to influence us to use our collective power to return them to office, where they will use their executive power to direct some aspects of our lives - a curious paradox of our system of parliamentary democratic representation. (That is they get us to give them the power to tell us what to do and how to live. And we really do have the choice, collectively, as we show when we vote for a change of government.)

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In looking at how power is exercised through language, you should be able to refer to real examples you have found, and explain these texts. But you should also have a theoretical approach that will enable you to interpret language data you are presented with in an exam. Among other things, you should look at pragmatics and speech act theory, lexis and semantics (forms and meanings), forms that include or exclude (insiders or outsiders), structures (at phrase, clause and discourse level), forms of address, phatic tokens, as well as structural features of speech, which may be used to exercise or establish power. And in some contexts, you will need to be able to show how rhetorical devices are used to influence an audience

Consider, for example, how conversational maxims may be adapted for reasons of expedience, rather than integrity. Does all power corrupt in language, as (according to Lord Acton) it does generally?

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Persuasive techniques in language

Simile and metaphor | Mixed metaphor or simile | Extended metaphor | Allusion | Lists of three | Repetition | Parallelism | Puzzled or redundant questions | Alliteration | Wordplay

This guide looks at the different subjects that examiners specify, but there are many techniques that are common to various contexts. In this section you will find some guidance on these. As well as looking for them in texts that you study, you may try to use them in texts that you produce - for example in original writing or editorial writing tasks.

Simile and metaphor

You may think of these primarily as devices in poetry, but they abound, consciously or unintended, in almost all spoken and many written texts, as when political reporters talk of a "raft" of measures.

Satan (Andy Hamilton) in an episode (from 2001) of Old Harry's Game (a radio sitcom set in Hell) remarks of one of the characters that he is "shaking like a Millennium Bridge" and of another that he has "the willpower of Bill Clinton at a cheerleaders' convention". The first is a simile, the second a metaphor. Both were topical in 2000, and exploit assumed attitudes in the audience - that we know (and are amused by) the engineering problems of the Millennium Bridge (good to look at, perilous to walk on) and the reputation of President Clinton.

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George W. Bush uses it for more serious effect when (in a State of the Union address) he describes the American faith in freedom and democracy as "a seed upon the wind, taking root in many nations." You will find these techniques not only in grand and serious contexts. If you want to collect metaphors, listen to soccer reports on Radio 5 - some of the summarizers even have their own favourite stock of images. Stuart Hall can be relied on for these, whether he is using the dead metaphor "School of Science" for Everton FC or likening the soccer player Emile Heskey to a wildebeest.

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Mixed metaphor or simile

Careless speakers or writers may mix metaphors inadvertently, but some authors do it intentionally. Even Shakespeare does this, as when Hamlet proposes "to take arms against a sea of troubles" - presumably both the playwright and the Prince realize that this is a strange action. The audience sees it as a metaphor of an impossible struggle. (W.B. Yeats used this idea in a poem called Cuchulain's Fight With the Sea) Mixing metaphors can have comic effects, as when a character in Mel Smith's 1989 film, The Tall Guy, remarks of an attractive woman that: "She's like a hungry leopard in full bloom." In fiction, mixing metaphors in dialogue is a stock way to make the reader question the intelligence of a character.

In other contexts it may come from the attempt to compare or relate things others have said. Many years ago, the late Enoch Powell, warning about the future effects of large-scale immigration referred to rivers of blood running in the UK. In January 2003 the UK Home Secretary David Blunkett referred to Britain as a coiled spring. In Any Questions (a radio programme in which various experts answer questions from the audience), Jonathan Dimbleby, the host, first said, (summarizing others' comments), "the country's like a coiled spring and this could spill over..." then asked, [is] "David Blunkett's coiled spring a tributary of Enoch Powell's river of blood?" Mr. Dimbleby appears to have seen that this is an inelegant mixing of metaphor, but his main purpose was, in posing the question, to relate the statements of others, who chose the original images.

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Extended metaphor

In rhetoric, a speaker may return to or develop a metaphor, to make an argument seem more compelling. In John F. Kennedy's 1961 Inaugural Address to the American people, we find an extended metaphor of lighting a fire to give light to the world:

"The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavour will light our country and all who serve it, and the glow from that fire can truly light the world."

Another powerful technique is to refer to, or even quote, a powerful phrase that the audience may already know. There is some risk in this, as the author needs to be sure that enough of the audience will be aware of the allusion or reference, unless the quoted phrase works well even if its origin is not known. In the lines quoted above, Kennedy seems to allude to the image, in St. John's gospel, of Jesus as "the light of the world".

Ronald Reagan's speechwriter, Peggy Noonan, borrowed an image from John Gillespie Magee's poem High Flight to explain the disaster in 1986 when the Challenger space shuttle exploded:

"We will never forget them (the crew), nor the last time we saw them this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye, and slipped the surly bonds of earth, to touch the face of God."

(Magee's poem begins: "Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth" and ends "...I've...Put out my hand and touched the face of God.")

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In commenting on language data, you may find it hard to detect allusion - in a way it is almost impossible unless you know what it is to which the speaker or writer alludes. On the other hand, there are many contemporary texts in which a young person has more chance of detecting a reference than an older one. A good example is a short feature (in the Guardian newspaper's tabloid supplement) that purports to be an extract from a chat forum, but is really a spoof. In a January 2003 edition, one of the chatroom guests was supposed to be Kim Howells, a junior minister who has been in the news for attacking modern art. He rebukes the other users of the chatroom for their non-standard spelling, adding: "I blame Mrs. Dynamite". The author intends the reader to be amused by the way "Kim Howells" tries to show an awareness of youth culture, yet reveals his ignorance in changing the title from Ms to Mrs ("Ms Dynamite", as younger readers will know, is the stage name of the rap singer Niomi McLean-Daley.)

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Lists of three

Three-part structures and lists are memorable and resonant in many kinds of text. Here are some examples:

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three...
St Paul, 1 Corinthians 13.13 (King James Version, 1611)
The grandest of these ideals is an unfolding American promise that everyone belongs, that everyone deserves a chance, that no insignificant person was ever born.
George W. Bush, Inaugural Address, 2001
If you're a daring designer, a budding botanist or simply green-fingered, we want to hear from you
Alan Titchmarsh, Gardeners' World Live, BBC TV, June 2001

Lists of three are not so common in unprepared speaking, but you should look out for them in any language data you have to study.

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A useful rhetorical device is to repeat a key idea or phrase - this may seem crude, but it may lodge in the minds of the audience. We see it in a speech made by Harold Wilson, during the 1974 UK General Election campaign:

"This election is not about the miners; not about the militants; not about the power of the unions..."

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Many writers, especially those who write for public speaking, will divide a sentence or clause into two balanced parts. This was the basic principle of poetry in much of the ancient world. There are almost limitless examples in the pages of the King James Bible, which was translated to be a version for public reading. Sometimes the second half echoes or develops the first half - this is synonymous parallelism. Sometimes the two halves are opposed or contradictory, and this is antithetic parallelism or simply antithesis.

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Synonymous parallelism

We see this in some lines from George W. Bush's Inaugural Address, where he refers to US history as:

"...the story of a power that went into the world to protect but not possess, | to defend but not to conquer."

In this example the thought of "to protect but not possess", is carried further by "to defend but not to conquer". In speaking these lines, there will be a pause after "possess".

For a more familiar example, look at the British National Anthem:

"God save our gracious queen, | long live our noble queen."

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Antithetic parallelism or antithesis

The first example comes from a speech of Winston Churchill, in which he challenges the Luftwaffe (the German air force): "You do your worst - and we will do our best".

A celebrated example comes from Kennedy's Inaugural Address (quoted above):

"And so, my fellow Americans, ask not, what your country can do for you. | Ask what you can do for your country."

And we can see antithesis in George W. Bush's images of America's "faith in freedom and democracy", first as a rock, then, by contrast, as a seed:

"Through much of the last century, America's faith in freedom and democracy was a rock in a raging sea. | Now it is a seed upon the wind, taking root in many nations."

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Puzzled or redundant questions

If you wish to make a statement, it may be a good idea to ask a question or series of questions to introduce it. This is a common technique in information leaflets, which often pose the question from the reader's viewpoint - "How can I protect my baby from common infections?" and so on. It can also be powerful in political rhetoric - "How can a Labour government raise standards in education?" leading to an exposition of the party's policy. For example, Welcome to the Labour Party, a booklet which gives information to new members, contains pages where statements are introduced by questions, each set out as a section heading, such as:

  • "How can I get involved?",
  • "What happens at local policy forums?",
  • "Do I have to go along to a local policy forum to have my say?" and
  • "What is the future?"

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Using the same initial consonant is a common ploy of poets and advertisers. It can be irritating if it's overdone, but makes lines quotable or memorable. In George W. Bush's inaugural speech we note "faith in freedom" and "rock in a raging sea". Winston Churchill, in his speech about the Luftwaffe addresses the Nazi leaders and refers to the Nazi party as "the grisly gang who work your wicked will".

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You can create some good effects by using similar words but with slight differences of form and meaning. Andy Bodle in a listings article for the film Rancid Aluminium does this by describing the film as "part arthouse, part shithouse". Here are a couple of examples. The first comes from Dorothy L. Sayers' Introduction to her translation of Dante's great narrative poem, Purgatory:

"Between the bishops who assure us that the family is the one and only seedbed of all the virtues, and the psychiatrists who warn us that it is a hotbed of all the vices, we hardly know how to advise any child to enter upon the hazard of existence."

The second comes from Vladimir Nabokov's essay "On a book Entitled Lolita". This is an appendix to his novel of the same name. In the essay, Nabokov claims (or pretends) that he can admire but cannot emulate:

"...the accuracy of judgment of those who pose the fair young mammals photographed in magazines where the general neckline is just low enough to provoke a past master's chuckle and just high enough not to make a post-master frown."

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Influential power - advertising

Broadly speaking, advertisers persuade their audience to adopt attitudes to lifestyle, products and services. It is rare to find advertising that seeks to influence explicitly or directly. Less rare are advertisements in which the link to a product or service is implicit or ambiguous. Consider a TV advertisement (May 2000) which depicts Aimee Mullins a model (who is also a paralympic athlete, sprinter, and double below-the-knee amputee) preparing for the finale of a fashion show for Alexander McQueen - the advertisement was made for an Internet service provider, FreeServe, but did no more directly to advertise FreeServe than show the company name and logo. There is an oblique link to the name of the company in the idea of the model's freedom to run with the wild animals depicted in the fashion show. At the same time the advertiser skilfully links a possibly un-sexy technical service with ideas of beauty, fashion and positive discrimination.

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Advertising has a lexicon, which may change over time, but is fairly stable - new, improved, proven and other qualifiers are seen as reliable. David Ogilvy in Confessions of an Advertising Man (quoted by Shirley Russell; Grammar, Structure and Style, Oxford, 1994, p. 177) identifies a basic lexicon of qualifiers such as: new, good, crisp, better, fresh, natural, fine, free, and of verbs such as: buy, give, taste, go, look, feel and use. Special registers (technical, scientific or pseudo-scientific) may be used for appropriate products. Torque, BHP, valve, ABS for cars or keramides, pro-B, hypoallergenic in personal hygiene products. Look out for special lexical uses according to product, image and target market. "Pot Noodle - everything else is just pants". Pants is (or was in 2000) fashionable as a mild term of disapproval among young people (especially young men) who may be supposed to want food which is inexpensive, quick to make, and needs no special preparation or utensils.

Advertising borrows and adapts structures and forms from texts of all kinds. Many broadcast advertisements are dramatic, with a narrative conducted through dialogue. Others may show a narrative by images alone, to the accompaniment of music and/or a voiceover. Can you think of examples? Puns, alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia, rhyme and other kinds of comic or poetic wordplay are common in advertising. Ambiguity, irony and allusion (reference) are also powerful techniques.

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Advertising and special lexis

Advertising often makes use of short texts - whether in print or broadcast media - where every word has to work hard (in this respect very much like poetry). It is very common for the advertiser to use words that belong to some other special lexicon, as if to establish a rapport with the target audience. So a 2002 television advertisement for John Smith's Bitter (beer) opens as if it were a broadcast of an international diving event (the advertisement appeared shortly after the 2002 Commonwealth Games). After divers from other countries execute technically perfect dives, the British diver jumps in, making a great splash and almost losing his trunks, to rapturous applause and perfect marks from the judges. The commentator utters the phrase, which is the slogan of the campaign: "top bombing". The non-standard noun, bombing, suggests something which is typically male, fun and demotic - it is unpretentious, aimed at people who have traditional ideas of bitter as a down-to-earth and blokeish drink, in contrast to continental lagers or drinks with other social pretensions.

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It is very easy to find special lexis in any advertisement. But in explaining how it works, you will need to think about how far the copywriter is using a particular register, or feature of style, which in turn is related to the product brand and image, and the attitudes or values of the audience. Look at the following examples of extracts of text from adverts, culled from a quick look through a selection of newspapers and magazines (the product and the producer appear in parenthesis after the advertisement text):

  • The British Airways Sale. Go on. Take off. (Reduced-price flights/British Airways)
  • Imagine a healthier fitter you. (Tanita body fat monitor)
  • Move Mountains. (Sim City 4 PC/Dixons)
  • Not so much a price as an invitation. (Flights to Spain/Iberia Airways)
  • Every year 39,200 women are newly diagnosed with breast cancer. (Medical insurance/AXA PPP healthcare)
  • Go Mobile. (Voyager laptop computer/Evesham Technology)
  • A win, win, win, win, win, win situation. (6 months' free business banking/Barclays)
  • Demon slashes all broadband set-up fees. (Broadband Internet service/Demon)
  • Not even the taxman can catch it. (Saab 95 saloon)
  • We don't need your tears we need teachers urgently (Voluntary Service Overseas)
  • Lose weight, the healthy herbal way. (Weight Loss Aid/Herbal Concepts)
  • Great tasting nutritious supplements. (Build-Up Nutrition/Nestlé)
  • Helps reduce and overcome smoking at your own pace. (NicoBloc)
  • Always on call. (Day & Night Nurse)
  • Technology with style. (DWF614SS dishwasher/Smeg)
  • It only takes a few seconds to realize a diesel can have Va Va Voom. (Renault Clio)
  • Kurt Geiger for her. Paul Smith for him. Tax-free prices for you. (Airport shopping/BAA)
  • Authentically French mellow cheese. (Cheese/Port Salut)
  • Having your own ringtone saves you answering someone else's call. (Call Sign/BT)

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Look for the lexical words (nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs). What ideas do they suggest? Does the text suggest the ideas of good value (low price), of style, status, sophistication, convenience, fitness and so on?

The Iberian Airways advertisement repeats the idea found in many airline ads of good value, while at the same time suggesting something personal about visiting Spain, through the noun "invitation" - which we associate with parties and celebrations.

The advertisement for BAA's Airport shopping works in a similar way: it refers to the low (tax-free) prices, yet targets its audience very precisely by naming the fashionable brands on sale - if we do not know what Kurt Geiger or Paul Smith makes, then the advert will pass us by. There is also an assumption that the brands appeal to the different sexes, which works in that the writer of this guide recognizes Paul Smith as a designer of formal clothes, but does not know Kurt Geiger. (The advertisement also has a three-part structure to point up the special lexis.)

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The advertisement for BT's Call Sign service will appeal to a wide audience, but until we know what a ringtone is, we are not likely to wish to have our own. The meaning of the noun is self-explanatory - but here it moves from its original context of use (mobile phones) to the related context of fixed telephones - so the advertisement targets householders rather than predominantly young people with spending money.

The Barclays advertisement uses a phrase that is a cliché or buzzword among business people: a "win-win situation" implies an arrangement that benefits people at either end, and challenges the received wisdom that if X gains then Y loses. So in using the phrase, the advertiser keeps to a register familiar to the business customer, while printing the adjective six times to indicate the number of months for which the free offer runs.

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"Technology with style" is one example of a pattern familiar here - that suggests that the product has two things that the audience may think to be normally contradictory or oxymoronic (the idea of "having your cake and eating it"). Sometimes the opposition is of price and quality (as in the claim that good food costs less at Sainsburys). Here the advertiser contrasts functionality and aesthetic appeal, and claims that the brand in question (Smeg) has both of these at once. Similarly the advertisement for NicoBloc combines the idea of efficaciousness (it works) with that of its not being too difficult for the would-be non-smoker to stop smoking. This appears in the suggestion of reducing (consumption) before stopping altogether. The verb "overcome" has connotations of victory in battle, rather than the breaking of a habit or a simple change in behaviour. These is probably very apt, since the target audience for this advertisement may well have an extreme view, and see the attempt to stop smoking as akin to a great military action. (The advertisement comes from Healthy Times a magazine distributed, free to readers, by the retail chemists UniChem - so the audience has already been targeted. Advertisements for products that help people stop smoking do of course appear in more general contexts, as in TV advertising.)

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This same contrast also appears in the Renault Clio advertisement - but here the lexis is more explicitly making the distinction, in diesel and Va Va Voom. The adjective diesel has immediate denotations of the known properties of this engine type - the engine has a longer life, is more dependable and gives better fuel economy, but takes longer to reach high speeds. The advertiser wants to suggest that the car nonetheless has a combination of style, flair, power and youth appeal (not normally associated with diesel engines). Rather than use any of these words, Renault has invented its own compound abstract noun - Va Va Voom. This is alliterative, and has an interesting sound - being quite memorable. The advertisers develop the image by association with, for example, the soccer player Thierry Henry - who is French, but lives and works in England, and is exceptionally talented and athletic. At the same time, M. Henry is shown in situations that suggest a caring and feminine side - with pets, sitting at home among soft furnishings, for instance. In this way the advertisements appeal to potential drivers of both sexes, and are highly specific to one make and model of car. By inventing the word, the advertisers are able to adapt it so that it carries exactly the suggestion they wish to make to the audience - it should have no prior negative connotations. One of the advertisements playfully suggests that the new term is part of the standard English lexicon by asking what is the French for Va Va Voom?

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Grammar and advertising

Does advertising have distinctive grammar? Yes - in several ways. First, advertising, like poetry, often allows the author more licence to depart from standard forms than in other kinds of text. And second, it makes use of short forms, of what Professor Crystal calls minor sentences. There is a connection with pragmatics, therefore, in that the advertiser makes very great assumptions about the audience. It is acceptable to puzzle or intrigue in ways that would not be at all appropriate if the audience really depended on the advertisers' information.

One very common technique is for the author to set nouns and noun phrases or verbs on their own, where the reader or listener supplies the missing elements by conjecture - rather as in interpreting notes, so that, for instance, "does what it says on the tin" is understood as "this product meets the claims that are printed on the side of the tin". This form may sometimes but not always resemble the forms used in headlines, so that it is especially suitable for adverts in newspapers. Here are some examples taken more or less at random from a trawl through some daily newspapers (January 2003):

  • Happy New Rate
  • Deals to remember
  • Currys sale/Free delivery plus Buy now pay 2004
  • Winter welcome
  • Free servicing for 3 years
  • Summer seats on sale
  • new year new fares
  • The confidence to succeed
  • Precious metal for precious little

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On their own, these do not tell you how typical they are. A casual mental count suggests that, in these newspapers, the advertisements in which the first line (or text nearest the top of the display box) is not a grammatically complete structure (sentence or main clause) outnumber those that are complete in a proportion of at least three to one. But a more complete survey from a bigger sample would be a suitable task for research. Among the few complete structures are:

  • i want extra MONEY
  • Apply now
  • How do you see yourself?
  • Look at the clues
  • Travel with Eurotunnel from just £5

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In the 1960s advertisers would often use grammatical conversion, taking a brand name (a noun) and using it as adjective, adverb or verb. This tendency has recently returned as in these examples:

  • That's so Suzuki
  • How refreshing, how Heineken

There is no attempt to alter the form of the word to correspond to its grammatical category, such as by adding an affix like -ish, -ic or -esque, nor of using an extra word: "that's so like Suzuki" "how like Heineken".

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Semantics and advertising

In the UK, there are some state controls on what advertisers may or may not claim about their products. Advertisers, therefore, often exploit the possibilities of connotation (suggested meaning) rather than strict denotation (stated meaning) and imply that products have various merits, without saying so explicitly.

One common way of doing so is to use pseudo-technical lexis or scientific names for everyday things. However, this is not desirable in all contexts. In cosmetic and pharmacological products, most advertisers will use scientific lexis to suggest efficacy, as in these examples:

"Perle de Caviar draws the essential elements of long-lasting beauty and a youthful complexion from the depths of the ocean...trace elements, amino acids, mineral salts, iodine and plankton. Combining a perfect balance of these precious elements, each Perle de Caviar product provides an intense thalassotherapy treatment designed to hydrate and regenerate."

"one simple tablet helps safeguard your diet with botanicals, natural caratenoids, vitamins and essential trace minerals...Advance your beauty regime with Perfectil® - because true radiance starts from within."

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"Regime" elevates the use of cosmetics to something complex, while the ® symbol suggests that there is something technically sophisticated in the product. It may really simply denote the registration of the trade name to protect against misuse. This pseudo science is not simply found in the advertisements proper but in the joined-up marketing, so that people who apply and demonstrate the products are "beauty therapists" - which may imply similar learning, academic qualifications and status to, for example, speech therapists or physiotherapists. The "beauty therapist" wears a white garment like a lab coat, implying some kind of likeness to a pharmacist. Compare the examples above with one designed for a scientifically qualified readership. This is an advertisement for Xalatan a 0.00%5 eye drop solution of latanoprost, licensed for use in March 2002, and advertised in The Pharmaceutical Journal of November 2002. The advertisement includes details of nine references to the product in published scientific sources, followed by detailed prescribing information, divided under standard headings such as Presentation, Indication, Dosage and Administration, Contra-indications, Precautions, Side Effects, Interactions, and information about the drug's effects in Pregnancy, Lactation and for Driving, Overdosage, Pharmaceutical Precautions, Legal Category, Packaging Quantities and Basic NHS price and details of the Product Licence Number and Holder. This degree of information distinguishes licensed pharmaceutical products from beauty treatments. In the latter case, the advertisers might wish us to believe that Laboratoires Garnier and the Ponds Institute are comparable to medical research institutions. In the west, Ponds appears to have dropped references to the fictitious institute - a search on the Web leads to some amusing spoofs, though the Ponds Institute is still used in advertisements in the developing world. A register of pharmaceutical laboratories in France (at does not show Laboratoires Garnier under entries for the letter g.

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In relation to food and drink, however, advertisers are usually keen to stress its naturalness. So while the product packaging will list all additives, flavourings and colourings, advertisements will identify the brand and basic food content, as in "Filippo Berio/The World's Finest Olive Oil/Filippo Berio/Olive Oil/Pure Genius" - the brand name and the principal ingredient appear twice, along with the adjective "pure", to suggest the idea that there is nothing but the natural oil in the bottle that the advertisement depicts. A full-page advertisement for Cobra beer, in Sainsburys Magazine for January 2003, shows lots of blank space, a small photograph of two bottles of Cobra, the Web site address, and this text: "If you like Cobra,/drink Cobra" and "The less gassy bottled beer that puts you under no pressure".

There are some exceptions to this rule of thumb, however - vitamins and mono-unsaturated fats, for example - which advertisers do sometimes mention.

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Pragmatics and advertising

Advertisers occupy the spaces where we are typically attending to other things - watching television, reading or browsing a magazine on the way to work, looking at posters on an underground train, platform or escalator, or from a car, bus or bicycle. They will try to appeal to all our senses and different language processing faculties at the same time. It is quite common for a TV advertisement to feature any or all of these at the same time: musical track, sound FX, voiceover, dialogue spoken by character or celebrity in or out of role, static text, moving text or text spelling out letter by letter on screen, with or without extra graphic embellishment.

What we do, if anything with these, may vary from person to person - but is something one can research. You can do this, for example, by showing advertisements to people (categorizing the people by whether they have seen the advertisement before, and how often, as well as by other things like sex and age), then asking them whether they think the advert contains an example of each of the kinds of text that the researcher has identified. (It is possible to add some that are not there, as distractor questions, to eliminate some kinds of respondent.)

A very good pragmatic approach is to consider the position and viewpoint that the audience is being asked to adopt. This can be something very simple, as in an assumption that we all want to save money. This assumption is very widespread among advertisers and marketers. Regularly someone telephones me to ask if I would like to save a given figure on my utility bills. My stock response is to say that I do not wish to save this amount (or even a lot more) to change something with which I am currently content, thinking it a fair price for a reliable service. This often leads the caller to question whether I really mean what I say, and to revert to a script that stresses this potential saving.

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By no means all advertisements make this assumption. Others assume that the reader or listener has anxieties about his or her self-image, and that he or she can become more attractive by wearing the watch or clothes advertised, or driving a different car. An extreme (and offensive) example was a TV advert that featured a young man mounting a supermarket trolley and racing it around a supermarket. A female voiceover spoke the phrase: "Inadequate car". (The advert is offensive in suggesting that the choice or ownership of a marque of car is the measure of a human being.) Various advertisers of mobile phones try to persuade existing owners that they need to replace a model that is not stylish and a likely cause of ridicule, as in an advertisement series (shown on UK television) for Phones4U. In these adverts the comedian Paul Merton speaks a voiceover: "We'll find the right phone for you". Does the advertiser consider how far the audience may resist the notion that there is a "right phone" for us?

A more objective approach to pragmatics might be to consider what grammatical person or form of address advertisers use, if they try to speak directly to us. Do they use imperatives ("Look at the clues"), do they make statements ("We don't serve lobster in the directors' dining room") or do they plant noun-phrases ("Free servicing for 3 years") and leave us to work out what to do about these?

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Discourse structures in advertising

Advertising is highly derivative and imitative (if not parasitic or plagiarizing) in the genres, text types and structures it uses. In effect, any kind of text that exists for any other purpose may be the blueprint for an advertisement. (This is not a one-way relationship: dramatic narratives and comic animations often borrow structures and techniques that first appeared in advertising. And there are many examples of television or print fiction that started life as advertisements - the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the 1990s or Torchie the Battery Boy in the 1960s.)

A very common general approach (for any broadcast medium and cinema) is to create narratives - which may be self-contained or episodic. While the advertiser may not wish to point out that these are narratives, this is not always the case. A series of advertisements for the BMW Mini car uses the format of stories with a plot consisting of three or four statements, read as voiceover with accompanying action - the subject of each sentence is usually "New Mini", and each example ends with: "The end. It's a Mini adventure". At the opposite extreme would be a series of advertisements produced by the agency McCann Erickson for Nescafé's Gold Blend brand of instant coffee. This campaign ran from November 1987 to 1993, containing twelve episodes released at the rate of one or two a year. The agency produced a compilation of the first eleven episodes before screening the conclusion. The "story" was adapted as a romantic novel, entitled Love Over Gold.

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An even longer-running series featured the OXO couple "Katie" and "Philip", in a series of domestic scenes. The Gold Blend series may have prompted the advertisers of the Renault Clio to make a series of advertisements featuring a French father and daughter ("Papa" and "Nicole") into a more coherent narrative, ending with a wedding, which sends up the classic film The Graduate. In this advertisement, two entertainers, then at the height of their popularity (Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer) played the jilted groom and the successful old flame who runs off with the girl. A Channel 4 poll showed this series to be the most popular of all UK TV adverts, while other studies have claimed that the series was the most successful in terms of the audience's ability to identify the product advertised.

As styles of TV broadcast have developed (say lifestyle programmes or reality shows), so advertisements have moved to emulate them. So we see the home makeover and DIY show mirrored by advertisements for Homebase, in which Neil Morrissey and Lesley Ash appear as a couple (loosely resembling the characters they played in the sitcom Men Behaving Badly) while post-watershed documentaries about sexual behaviour clearly have inspired the campaign (starting in 2002) for Pot Noodle ("It's dirty but you want it") in which a young man visits various clubs and asks young women in underwear or bondage gear whether they "do" Pot Noodle, or in which a young woman (seemingly a girlfriend) accuses the young man of indulging in his Pot Noodle habit.

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Finding more

You can find many advertisements by going to the Web sites of the various agencies, or looking for named directors of commercials. But two big portals worth visiting are:

As a critique of advertising, you should look at Adbusters, at

Influential power - politics

The features of political language vary, as do its purposes. Where politicians interact with society generally, their purposes may be, to persuade voters with a party loyalty to turn out to vote; to move a floating voter's party allegiance, or to make us adopt general political or social attitudes, so we support a given policy. Politicians may also use particular language forms when answering journalists' questions. Where politicians engage in language interactions with other politicians, they may use other particular forms - either loosely or under the rule of an arbiter, such as the Speakers in the UK House of Commons and the US House of Representatives. And finally, a contemporary feature of political language use is what is known as "spin" - providing information to the media in such a way as to favour a desired interpretation, not explicitly stated.

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Political rhetoric

Persuasive language techniques, especially in speech, take their name from the Greek noun for a professional speaker, rhetor (the Latin equivalent is orator). Many of these techniques are found in written records of speeches in the ancient world - such as Jesus' use, in Matthew's and Luke's gospels of parable, antithesis and patterned speech which even survive translation into English:

"Blessed are those who mourn, | for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the pure in heart, | for they shall see God."

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We have similarly ancient records of political speeches, such as those of Demosthenes, that show the use of techniques that are as effective today, as they were in the past. Max Atkinson, of Oxford University, suggests that political speechwriters consistently rely on a range of powerful techniques:

  • alliteration,
  • allusion,
  • antithesis (inversion),
  • asking questions and suggesting answers,
  • lists (especially of three items),
  • metaphor (especially extended metaphor),
  • parallelism,
  • parenthesis,
  • repetition and
  • redundant questioning.

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To see these in action, you should look at examples of speeches written for politicians, and find out how these work. Obtaining example data for this purpose is very easy. You can use the official record of the UK House of Commons. (This is called Hansard after Thomas Curson Hansard, who began producing reports unofficially, and put his name to the record in 1829. Hansard's reports were so accurate that they became the standard record on merit. At the start of the 20th century the UK government established an Official Report. It dropped the Hansard name, but popular usage preserved it, and in 1943 the name was officially reinstated, even though the report now has no connection with the Hansard family.) Hansard's reports are available in print and on the World Wide Web, as are records of proceedings in the parliaments of many other countries (which also use the name Hansard). In the UK, the BBC has a digital television channel (BBC Parliament) that broadcasts debates and meetings of select committees - from which you can make recordings and transcripts. The federal government and state governments in the USA also publish the text of speeches, such as the President's Inaugural Address and State of the Union speeches.

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Once you have found your transcript, what can you do with it? One exercise is to look for rhetorical techniques in action. Consider this extract from a speech made by the late Harold Wilson, the Labour leader, before the 1974 UK General Election:

"This election is not about the miners; not about the militants; not about the power of the unions: it's about the disastrous failure of three and a half years of Conservative government which has turned Britain from the path of prosperity to the road of ruin."

What is Mr. Wilson doing here? We find

  • repetition of the formula "not about", and
  • antithesis between "is not about" and "it's about".

"Path of prosperity" and "road of ruin"

  • repeat the same form,
  • use alliteration and
  • are related metaphors.

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In John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address from January 20, 1961, we find an extended metaphor (of lighting a fire to give light to the world) and a concluding antithesis:

"The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavour will light our country and all who serve it, and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Americans, ask not, what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."

The last two sentences use many of the same lexemes, but transpose (switch) the subject and the indirect object. (You can find the whole text of the speech and an audio recording [Real Audio] to download at the JFK Library and Museum, hosted by the University of Massachusetts Department of Computer Science at:

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For a humorous allusion, consider Margaret Thatcher's:

"To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite modern catchphrase the 'U- turn', I have only one thing to say: You turn, if you like; the lady's not for turning!"

There is wordplay on the homophones U-turn/you turn, and a reference to Mrs. Thatcher's "Iron Lady" nickname, while the final phrase is a painful pun on the title of Christopher Fry's play (about a witch): The Lady's Not for Burning.

Ronald Reagan's speechwriter, Peggy Noonan, borrowed an image from John Gillespie Magee's poem High Flight to explain the disaster in 1986 when the Challenger space shuttle exploded:

"We will never forget them (the crew), nor the last time we saw them this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye, and slipped the surly bonds of earth, to touch the face of God."

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Now look at these longer extracts (from which some of the examples above come), and see if you can find other ways in which the writer (not the same person as the speaker, usually) uses specific techniques to achieve particular effects.

"In the long history of the world only a few generations have been granted the rôle of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility; I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavour will light our country and all who serve it, and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Americans, ask not, what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."

John F. Kennedy

"Suddenly the nation has been plunged into a midwinter election. You must be asking why has Mr. Heath decided to make a desperate run for it. It can't be because of the dispute with the miners. Mr. Heath can't be asking you to vote him back so that he can make an honourable settlement with the miners. No, Mr. Heath is making a run for it, in the hope that the smokescreen of the miners' dispute - a dispute that he has deliberately stoked up - will distract you from the real issues. This election is not about the miners; not about the militants; not about the power of the unions: it's about the disastrous failure of three and a half years of Conservative government which has turned Britain from the path of prosperity to the road of ruin."

Harold Wilson

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"I'll tell you what happens with impossible promises: you start with far-fetched resolutions; they are then pickled into a rigid dogma cold. And you go through the years, sticking to that: outdated, misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs. And you end in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council - a Labour council - hiring taxis to scuttle round a city, handing out redundancy notices to its own workers. I'm telling you now: no matter how entertaining, how fulfilling to short-term egos - I'll tell you and you'll listen - I'm telling you, I'm telling you - you can't play politics with people's jobs and people's services."

Neil Kinnock

"And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle's take-off. I know it's hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It's all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It's all part of taking a chance, of expanding man's horizons. The future doesn't belong to the faint-hearted. It belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future and we'll continue to follow them. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye, and slipped the surly bonds of earth, to touch the face of God."

Ronald Reagan

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Parliamentary and unparliamentary language

In the UK Parliament, a range of special language features marks proceedings. These include:

  • a special lexicon and forms of address,
  • disallowing personally abusive epithets
  • use of special structures
  • Parliamentary privilege - freedom from liability for slander
  • rules for taking and holding turns
  • procedures for supportive and explicatory interventions
  • submission to the arbitration of the chairman or woman, the Speaker and Deputy Speakers.

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David Crystal (Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, p. 378) suggests also that maxims of conversational theory do not apply to parliamentary dialogue. Other participants or commentators do not assume that speakers are telling the truth, are speaking clearly or with relevance. This may need some clarification. In some ways, debate is like social conversation - people speak in sequence, respond to each other and develop ideas. And outside of occasions when MPs adopt ritual enmities (Prime Minister's Question Time or the presenting of a new draft bill, say), the speakers may follow cooperative rules and observe conversational maxims. But they have other motivations than the success of the conversation - and (in pragmatic terms) may want the exchange not to be successful, that is in coming to an accommodation. For an exhaustive discussion of how different theoretical models usefully explain parliamentary discourse, have a look at Chris Christie's Politeness and the Linguistic Construction of Gender in Parliament: An Analysis of Transgressions and Apology Behaviour at In this article, Chris Christie effectively qualifies Professor Crystal's assertion, as she does see what happens if one uses models from Pragmatics (specifically politeness theory) to explain Parliamentary exchanges.

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Special lexis in politics

Forms of address in parliament | Parliamentary privilege | Voting | Parliamentary rules for turn taking | other rules

The UK parliament has a special lexicon - something you will find in the political systems of many states. This includes terms denoting the institutions, practices and officials of the parliament - things like bench (back bench, cross bench, front bench), Black Rod, speaker, under-secretary, whip (noun and verb).

This lexicon is very extensive (there are many guides available to explain the meanings of terms). Some are descriptive and more or less self-explanatory, such as: Committee of Selection, Disclaiming a Peerage and Prime Minister's Questions (though here we need to know that the questions are asked of or to, but not by, the Prime Minister, who gives the answers). Others are opaque - we need to know more information in order to understand the meaning, as with: 1922 Committee, Another Place, Chiltern Hundreds, Hansard and I Spy Strangers. You can find explanations of these and other terms on various A to Z guides, but if you want to know the meaning of these particular terms they are as follows (Hansard is explained above):

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1922 Committee A committee made up of all backbench Conservative MPs; when the party is in opposition, frontbench MPs apart from the leader may attend.
Another Place When members of the Commons wish to refer, in debate, to the House of Lords, or where peers (in the Lords) wish to refer to the Commons, they refer to "another place" or "the other place", rather than naming the house.
Chiltern Hundreds An office appointed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. MPs cannot voluntarily give up their seats during a Parliament, so if one wants to resign, he or she applies for this office (which is normally granted) and is immediately disqualified from being an MP
I Spy Strangers Anyone who is not a member or official of the Parliament is a stranger. An MP can interrupt proceedings with the cry: "I spy strangers". This forces the Speaker to put a motion that strangers withdraw (from the public Strangers' Gallery). If the motion is passed (very rare) the proceedings continue in private.

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Below is a list of further words and phrases which have a special meaning in the context of Parliament. How many do you know? Check the BBC's, or Parliament's own, A to Z guide to find out what they mean. Go to:

Adjournment debates
Another place
Any hours motion
Autumn Statement
Below the gangway
Black Rod
Blocking motion
Budget briefcase
Budget leaks
Cabinet committees
Cabinet Office Secretariat
Cabinet reshuffles
Casting vote
Censure Motions
Central Lobby
Chairman of Ways and Means
Chairmen's Panel
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
Chancellor of the exchequer
Chief whip (government)
Church commissioners
Civil list
Clerk of the Parliaments
Command papers
Committee office
Committee stage
Consultation papers
Contempt of Parliament
Cross Benches
Crossing the Floor
Deputy speaker
Dilatory motion
Disclaiming a peerage
Draft bills
Early Day Motion
Father of the House
First Reading
Foreign Secretary
Free vote
Grave disorder
Green card
Green Paper
Guillotine procedure
Hybrid Bills
I Spy Strangers
Journal of the Commons
Journal Office
Leader of the House
Lobby System
Draft bills
Early Day Motion
Father of the House
First Reading
Foreign Secretary
Free vote
Grave disorder
Green card
Green Paper
Guillotine procedure
Hybrid Bills
I Spy Strangers
Journal of the Commons
Journal Office
Leader of the House
Lobby System
Lord Chancellor
Lord Privy Seal
Lords Commissioners
Lords Spiritual
Lords Temporal
Mace - Commons
Mace - Lords
Maiden Speech
No-Confidence Motions
Nodding Through
Order Book
Order Paper
Orders in Council
Orders of the Day
Overseas Office
Parliamentary Private Secretaries (PPSs)
Parliamentary Privilege
Parliamentary Questions
Points Of Order
Prime Minister's Questions
Printed Paper Office
Private Bill Office
Private Bills
Private Member's Bills
Private Notice Question
Privileges Committee
Privy Council
Privy Councillors
Public Accounts Committee
Public Bill Office
Queens Speech
Reading Clerk
Readings of Bills
Recesses and Recalls
report stage
Royal Assent
Second Reading
Select Committees
Serjeant at Arms
Shadow Cabinet
Standing Committees
Standing Orders
Starred Questions
Statutory Instruments
Table Office
Ten Minute Rule Bill
Third reading
Unparliamentary language
Usual channels
Vote Bundle
White Paper
Forms of address in parliament

Forms of address may confuse the outsider. Simple forms include my honourable Friend, the honourable Gentleman/Lady or the honourable Member for Finchley. These denote an MP simply - other members are supposed to know who represents each constituency (electoral area). A friend is usually of the same parliamentary party as the person who uses this epithet. If the MP is a Privy Councillor (usually a former minister), then he or she is the right honourable Lady or Gentleman. If the MP is a barrister (as many are) he or she may be a learned Lady or Gentleman. The Speaker and Deputy Speaker chair debates. Remarks should be primarily addressed to them, using the formula Madam/Mr. Speaker or Madam/Mr. Deputy Speaker...For example, here is a comment from Hansard for 21 January 2003, in which Mike O'Brien (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) refers to Ann Clwyd: "I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley". (In Hansard "hon." is the standard abbreviation for "honourable".)

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Directly addressing another person with the second person pronoun ("You") is disallowed and may earn a rebuke from the Speaker, as in this exchange:

Mr. Prescott: Now we see the picture. The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) said, "We're against congestion charging."
Mr. Gray: I am.
Mr. Prescott: You might be - perhaps that is new new Conservatism - but you should have a chat to your mate on the Front Bench.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sorry to stop the Secretary of State's speech, but I would be grateful if he would use the correct parliamentary language.

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In this case the Speaker signals his disapproval and calls Mr. Prescott to attention with the call: "Order". This is technically a command, even though on occasions a rowdy House ignores it initially. Interestingly, he says nothing about the "mate on the Front Bench" - so Mr. Prescott might have escaped rebuke, had he said, "the honourable member for North Wiltshire should have a chat with his mate on the Front Bench, the [right] honourable member for X". Mr. Prescott's error is to use second person "you", and speak directly to Mr. Gray.

However, in choosing among possible alternative forms in a given context, speakers may illustrate pragmatic rules or principles - perhaps using a polite formula to cover hostility or aggression, while in a naturally friendly exchange a less explicitly courteous form may be acceptable. Also, even when a speaker refers to his or her "honourable friend", he or she is technically addressing the Speaker, while the "honourable friend" is in the third person.

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Parliamentary privilege

In the House of Commons speakers may assert things which elsewhere would allow others to sue them for libel - this is Parliamentary Privilege. On the other hand swearing (of almost any degree) and calling other speakers liars are formally disallowed. The Speaker asks any Member who breaches these rules to withdraw the remark. If he or she persists, the Speaker may ban the offender from the House for a given period. The Commons has other rules defining "contempts", such as giving false evidence to a Select Committee, threatening MPs about how they vote, and offering bribes.

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To vote, members go through a lobby. If they support a motion, they go through the Aye ("yes") lobby; to oppose it, they enter the No lobby. To give the result, the Speaker states the number of votes for Aye and No, and says that either the Ayes or the Noes have it.

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Rules for turn taking

In a debate, the Speaker of the House calls MPs to take a turn. The holder of the turn may allow another speaker to interrupt his or her speaking. The new would-be speaker may ask, "Will you give way?" The MP who is speaking may agree to this, using the form: "I will give way". Etiquette dictates that the new speaker should make a brief contribution before allowing the first speaker back. This is a highly formalized version of turn taking. Of course, on many occasions, the person who has the floor will refuse to allow the interruption, for reasons of time or policy.

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Other rules

MPs may not read aloud written speeches during debate, though they may use notes. They are not allowed to read newspapers, magazines and letters. They may not make use of visual aids, such as diagrams and maps.

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The sound bite

Short slogans, like those in advertisements, often mark the speech of politicians answering questions from journalists (or their opponents). These are repeated in such a way as to persuade the listener of their truth or reason. For example, in defending policies which apparently increased unemployment in the UK but raised the value of the currency, Mrs. Thatcher coined the phrase: "There is no alternative". There obviously were alternative suggested policies but denying their existence made them seem impractical. Whether or not they were really impractical is not the linguist's concern: we are interested in the linguistic means by which Mrs. Thatcher justified her dismissal of them.

A very simple but effective sound bite is the name New Labour. "New" is well known as an effective qualifier in advertising, and the UK Labour Party in the 1990s was keen to distance itself from the (supposedly unelectable) Labour Party of the 1980s. Constant repetition of the name made it stick. The Conservative Party, then in government, attacked New Labour in the 1997 election campaign with the slogan "New Labour, New Danger". Arguably, this reinforced the idea that Labour had changed and helped the party win the election.

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Influential power - media
(broadcast, print, new technologies)

While any text may be influenced by the maker's preconceptions and world view, many media texts arise from an explicit intention of promoting given values or attitudes, whether sincerely, because the author believes in them, or cynically, to attract an audience. As students of language, you have no interest in this - your concern is the language features in which these attitudes are embodied or expressed. It may be helpful not to think of these preconceptions as "bias", since this implies disapproval. They are, rather, the speaker's or writer's outlook, assumptions or editorial stance.

You should be aware that certain media texts proclaim and admit these underlying attitudes - opinion columns or current affairs broadcasts explicitly adopt such a stance. But others, such as reporting, may aspire to neutrality, yet display the author's value systems by choices of lexis or current metaphors. For example:

  • Do we read of refugees, economic migrants or asylum seekers?
  • Are they bogus, and are they passing through open (or about-to-be-open) floodgates? (How often do you meet floodgates in a literal, rather than metaphorical sense?)
  • Are those who resist the state guerrillas, freedom fighters or terrorists?
  • Does a writer introduce ideas of legality to confer (dis)approval, so "legal" intoxicants (alcohol, tobacco) are distinguished from those that are illegal, and so referred to as drugs.

New media texts may reveal very different attitudes, but in similar ways - they, too, have distinctive lexis and metaphors. Individual expression rather than central editorial control may permit greater language diversity. Perhaps influential power is less monolithic, but appears in trends and fashions. There is plenty of space for critics - the World Wide Web abounds with sites that proclaim why X sucks, where X is a powerful business corporation.

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Lexis and semantics in the media

Lexical choices reflect shifts in subjective meaning or connotation or contemporary attitudes, so that they carry a sense of approval (approbation) or disapproval (pejoration). They may also be euphemistic, appearing as an acceptable substitute for some word or phrase that the writer or speaker thinks too strong or direct - as when the inadvertent killing of soldiers by their own allies or compatriots is "friendly fire", and the killing of civilians is "collateral damage".

Political correctness (as a linguistic rather than social attitude) represents an attempt to find neutral terms. While PC language is often a subject for ridicule, it arises from a sensitivity to the connotations or implications of more common forms.

It is worth paying attention to recurring forms - how often does anyone talk about addressing the issues (in the loose sense of talking about things or sorting them out).

Context is very important - some areas of the media will use traditional and quite literary forms to suggest seriousness and dignity, as, say, on Alistair Cooke's Letter from America, broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Presenters of children's programmes on BBC1, BBC2 and CBBC will use forms closer to those of everyday speech among young people - or will they? Perhaps this is generally true, but they will have their own taboos - so they will not normally refer to sex, violence, gambling and alcohol, or swear and blaspheme.

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Pragmatics in the media

We can apply the theories of pragmatics to language use in the media - but should note some special features of how they work. A simple example might be a political interview, broadcast on radio or television. What the listener or viewer might miss is an understanding of how far the speakers are aware of the wider audience, and how far the questions and answers are, or are not, spontaneous, as the interviewee may have seen them before the interview is recorded.

Another complicating factor is the effect of editing, where an interview is recorded for later broadcast - this can remove the sense of two or more people observing the cooperative principle or exhibiting politeness.

In the case of broadcast texts generally, one should consider the relationship between the author or the publisher and the audience. Take news broadcasts, for example. We are familiar with the convention of a newsreader's sitting down at or behind a desk, but not all newsreaders do this. Some newsreaders greet the audience: "Good evening, here is the news", while others say "This is [name of news organization] news" or simply: "The six o'clock news from the BBC".

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Even things like the newsreaders' clothes may be important - suits and ties are common (for men) in the west and in the developing world, but in some countries newsreaders wear traditional or culturally significant clothes. This is something very easy to study: record a series of broadcasts on radio and TV over a day or two - if you have digital TV and radio, you can record bulletins from a much wider range. Then study each and note down how they do certain things. For example:

The newsreader(s)
  • How many are there - one, two, more and of what sex?
  • What do they wear?
  • Do they sit, stand, move, stay still and so on?
  • Do they acknowledge each other?
  • How do they introduce reports from other correspondents?
  • How do they address the unseen audience?
Conventions of presentation
  • Do we see filmed footage (on TV news)?
  • Do we see any graphic images or captions?
  • Do we see text giving people's names?

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These are just a few ideas - you should be able to think of many more. Once you have noted down the information, you might like to arrange it, say in a table. Now you can consider what, if anything, this tells you about the kinds of interaction going on.

To take one example Channel 4's seven o'clock (p.m.) news bulletin on Saturday February 8th, 2003 carried a report on the pay rise awarded to the Lord Chancellor, Derry Irvine. To show the value of this rise (£22,000), the broadcaster used on-screen graphics showing what this amount would buy (a teacher's salary, so many bottles of claret and other things), while displaying an animated image of a fruit-machine bearing the name: "Derry's Jackpot". Leaving aside the question of how the viewer may feel about the news story here, we may consider how the use of these techniques affects that view. The image of the fruit machine may be significant to some parts of the audience, but may give offence to others, who disapprove of gambling.

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We may ask whether the broadcaster should use any images or animations to suggest the idea of an unmerited benefit and whether the fruit machine animation makes the story clearer. Should the story be left to speak for itself? Or is some kind of editorial slant inevitable?

We can apply similar considerations to other spoken media texts - say the way in which a programme host talks to a guest on a phone-in quiz or similar activity. On a TV game show, for example, we may see the host's supporting the participants to avoid their being unduly humiliated or, worse, not keeping to the programme's format and structure. Recent broadcasts, of the so-called "Reality TV" genre, are quite different - in many of these, there is no such protection or nurturing of the participants. Instead they are subject to insult by the hosts or other participants.

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Grammar in the media

It is relatively easy to study grammar, by looking at very specific features of language data such as verb tenses and pronoun choices - these can become conventional in certain forms or genres, and harden into a kind of style. So, with broadcast news, we will be familiar with the forms in:

"Fifty-three people died when their bus collided with a train in central China early this morning..."

The clause structure is subject + verb (past imperfect tense) + adverbial. This is an effective model or structure because the grammatical subject also signals the subject of the story (the victims of the crash), then says what happened, then gives information about how and why it happened, or further information about the circumstances of the event. If we look at

"The Prime Minister flew to France this afternoon for a meeting with President Chirac..."

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we can see that this is more or less the same structure. Some kinds of text, like reportage, use formulas like this, because the writers work at speed and are meant to publish the story rather than create literary work.

Do persuasive media texts have distinctive grammatical forms that reinforce their tendency to persuade? Perhaps. What might these be? Well, I have just used one in the two previous sentences - taking what might be declarative sentences and recasting them as questions and answers.

Qualifiers can be used, as their name implies to qualify the meaning of verbs and nouns - so that our view is affected - which really takes us back into semantics and stylistics.

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Structures in media texts

Are there distinctive structures for persuasive texts in the media? First, we may want to identify what such persuasive media texts might be. Some are easy to name, as they are explicitly intended to alter our view - as with party election or political broadcasts, editorials in newspapers and campaigns, such as the campaign in 2001 by the News of the World (a UK Sunday newspaper) to introduce "Sarah's Law" (the equivalent of the US Megan's Law, here named after murder victim Sarah Payne), such that families could know the identities of convicted paedophiles living near them. Other texts may have less obviously persuasive qualities - such as a documentary broadcast that leads the audience to some kind of position or view. Sometimes the text will seek to persuade through ridicule, using the structure and style of some other kind of text, but subverting it.

What are the structures for these texts? Editorials may be a few hundred words in length - a headline, a simple introduction, an elaboration of argument with examples, leading to a simple conclusion. While the lexicon and style may vary according to the target readership of the newspaper, the structure is more or less the same for different kinds of newspaper. The party election or political broadcast in the UK is limited in time to a few minutes - so the writers have developed structures like extended advertisements. The extract below comes from a 1994 party political broadcast for the Labour Party, which had a running time of 4 minutes 40 seconds:

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[Opening shot: Time-lapse photography of the sun rising over the Palace of Westminster]
TONY BLAIR: [voice-over] It is an honour to lead this party. I accept it with excitement..
[cut to shots of Blair reviewing papers in the back seat of a car]
.. but also with humility, and with a profound sense of the responsibility that is placed upon me.
[cut to someone adjusting the rear-view mirror to show Blair]
[Cut to Radio Two studio]
VOICE-OVER: [station identifier] Radio Two - Jimmy Young
JIMMY YOUNG: And in the studio with me now, the new Leader of the Labour Party, Tony Blair. Good Morning Tony.
TONY BLAIR: Good Morning Jim.
[Cut to vox pops]
VOX POP 1: Tony Blair has a sense of vision.
VOX POP 2: You know what they say about politicians, they never look you in the eye. He certainly does.
VOX POP 3: I feel I can trust him.
[Cut to Blair talking to camera; caption "The Rt.Hon. Tony Blair MP Leader of the Labour Party"]

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This is more complex than a newspaper editorial. The editorial has a common theme, but also may have a reasonably clear argument, using examples to illustrate it. In the broadcast, there is still the common theme, but there is not a simple or clear line of argument, rather a series of elements that are assembled loosely. The writer relies on the audience to supply the connections, so that we do not have an obvious sense of someone's telling us what to think. The image of the sunrise and the recording of Tony Blair's accepting the leadership of the party both suggest the idea of change - in 1994 the Labour Party was trying to persuade the British electorate to return Labour to power. We can see how the writer first shows Tony Blair or has him speaking on a voice-over, but does not have him speaking straight to camera until some way into the broadcast.

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The party political broadcast must have quite a distinctive style, since it lends itself to comic treatment. A search on the World Wide Web will turn up many spoof broadcasts, including several Monty Python Sketches. The extract below comes from a broadcast (November 2001) of the ruling People's Action Party of Singapore and published on the party's Web site at It is far simpler than the Labour broadcast above:

My fellow Singaporeans
In two days' time, you will be casting your votes. Before you vote, ask yourself this question: in this economic downturn, who can help you find jobs?
Nobody can say when our economy will recover. The US is fighting a war against terrorism - in Afghanistan and in the US itself. If the war goes badly, the global recession could drag on. Singapore could then take one and a half to two years to recover. This is why I have called for elections now, as I want your strong mandate for our programme to save and create jobs for you.
I am especially concerned for older Singaporeans. They have families to look after. They find it harder to find and fit into new jobs. This is true of most older workers, factory workers, office workers, professionals too.
How do we help you? First, let us try to save existing jobs. Next, let us help retrenched workers find new jobs. Thirdly, for the longer term, we must create more jobs.

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This broadcast is no more than a speech - we do not (on the Web document) have an indication of what might be shown on TV or if it is a radio broadcast only, but it seems to be the text of a speech by the leader. In the Labour broadcast, Tony Blair eventually speaks about the economy and jobs - but here the speaker moves straight to these subjects, without any real preliminaries. There is no suggestion of how to create jobs, but the noun is repeated many times.

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Influential power - culture

The notion of a canon of classic works of art has not gone away, but is in creative tension with alternative contemporary visions. We cannot readily call these modern since this label has been appropriated for works from the early 20th century, and post-modern smacks of the 1980s. Some works, hailed in the moment of publication or exhibition as masterpieces, are quickly forgotten. Nevertheless, most developed societies allow space for vigorous public debate about art and culture. And we are comfortable with a distinction between popular, lowbrow or commercial music, writing and so on, and serious, classical or highbrow art.

Culture, especially popular culture, exerts a massive influence on how people think and see the world. And this is reflected in a range of language forms. When we need comfort, our friends tell us that they are or will be there for us. Unless we are pedantic we do not ask where there is. Soap operas and advertisements present us with tidy versions of real life scenarios and the language forms we need to understand or endure them: a lexicon for our troubles and problems, helpful phrases and even extended discourse structures or paradigms for coping. "Have a good cry" we are told, because we "have to grieve" (a metaphor of pressure which must be released before it does harm, often appears).

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"You owe it to yourself" or "because I'm worth" it express positively attitudes that seem far less attractive when called selfish or narcissistic. The fictional trial of a character for a topical crime (rape, wife beating, road rage) may provoke intelligent reflection leading to greater understanding. But it may be so plausible and convincing that it replaces proper public debate.

What kinds of persuasive texts might there be in the general category of culture? These would include satire, polemical writing, poetry and theatre.

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Instrumental power - law

While some legal processes are used to enact power, others are devised to allow lawyers to persuade a judge or a jury, within an adversarial system of persuasion. This has its own distinctive language forms, and is much more constrained by rules than other kinds of persuasion - so much so that failure to obey the rules can overturn the decisions of a court. David Crystal (Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, p. 374) distinguishes between the language of the legislature (Parliament) which institutes a legal text (sets down the law in written form) and the language of the judiciary (law courts and judges) which interprets and applies it.

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The lexicon of law

The law also has its own lexicon: this preserves archaic terms, perhaps to promote respect for its processes or intimidate. While this continues to be acceptable in criminal law, in April 1999 civil courts saw a change in their lexicon.

  • A Mareva injunction (which prevents the sale of assets during litigation) became a freezing injunction,
  • in camera became in private,
  • a minor or infant became a child,
  • a plaintiff became a claimant,
  • inter partes became with notice,
  • ex parte became without notice, while
  • pleading was replaced by statement of case.

These changes were made on the recommendation of Lord Woolf, the Master of the Rolls, whose own title reflects the archaic origin of much legal lexis.

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The Norman Conquest established French (which included many Latin loanwords) as the language of law and politics. Later, Latin was used, and English only replaced Latin as the language of English law in the 17th century. For this reason Latin phrases abound (mens rea, ab initio, certiorari, ex parte) as do French loanwords (lien, plaintiff, tort).

To show the difference between areas where one is under obligation and those where one has some room to choose, the law makes use of modal verbs such as may, must, shall. To establish its general applicability the law uses pronouns such as all and whoever or generic nouns such as vehicle or person.

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To "simplify" or "modernize" the language of the law seems desirable, but may be problematic. Ordinary people may have a better sense of understanding and therefore more respect for laws expressed simply and plainly. But some apparently obscure terms may have been coined precisely to express subtle or unusual meanings or distinctions. And if the law uses the common register, then an updated term may itself become obsolete, as its common meaning misleads people about its legal sense. Fiona Kerr, who used to practise law, gives this example of what she calls "the difference between lawyer-speak and normal language":

The general public use "murdered" interchangeably with "killed", no-one ever says "he manslaughtered him"...Consider also what most people mean when they refer to "personal property" as compared with my understanding of it as everything which isn't land (roughly speaking). When Mrs Bloggins does her own will and leaves her personal property to the nice lady who looked after her cat whilst she was in hospital, she may intend to leave her collection of tin ornaments and a few skirts, but is she intending to also bequeath her savings to said nice lady or did she intend to leave them to her son, along with the house? Only a Judge can decide and by the time he has, there won't be any savings left for the winning litigant to spend - and the loser could be in debt.

The structures of legal language

Law is often expressed in lengthy sentences marked by lists of items to ensure that nothing is missed out which the law should cover, so we know later whether or not it applies in a certain case. Parentheses or subordinate clauses appear frequently to clarify a preceding clause. Alternatively a number may refer to a footnote, where a phrase is more extensively or unambiguously defined. Legal documents are notorious for hyper-complex syntax, with several degrees of subordination of clauses. They also allow, often without clarifying punctuation, lengthy adverbial phrases, such as:

And any such release settlement discharge shall as between you and the undersigned be deemed to have been given or made upon the express condition that it shall become and be wholly void and of no effect if the assurance security or payment on the faith of which it was made or given shall be void...

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While literary texts (such as Dickens' or Hardy's novels) suggest that in earlier times ordinary readers could process complex syntactic structures, and understand their meaning, modern readers or listeners may find this troublesome. Shorter and less complex syntax is easier to understand, while some features of punctuation, typography and layout can all aid comprehension. It is not so much that lawyers in the past did not know how to make themselves understood. They perhaps never intended to do so.

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Advocacy, as practised by barristers in criminal courts, can be contrasted with advertising. In one case, there are no rules, while approaches change and are expedient - advertisers do whatever works. Advertisers are constrained by some standards and a code of practice. But advocates in the law courts are subject to very precise rules about evidence, kinds of argument and turn taking, among other things, in a forum (the court) over which a judge presides.

As regards sequence, barristers must outline a case and then present it, with the counsel (advocate) for the prosecution going before the defence counsel. The prosecution must prove its case beyond reasonable doubt; the defence, as barristers and judges often remind juries, does not have to prove anything - it is enough to discredit the prosecution or show that the prosecution has not proved the case beyond reasonable doubt. Each side may question its "own" witnesses, but the other side may subsequently cross-examine (question) them. Each side must sum up its case, and the judge must also sum up the whole proceedings and advise the jury about how to arrive at its verdict.

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In asking a question of a witness, an advocate is not normally allowed to invite the witness to agree with a version of events the advocate has described - that is, by asking leading questions. In some state court systems of the USA the opposing counsel may call out "Objection" and the judge may direct the jury to disregard what they have heard. In the UK, judges make such rulings directly without the protest of "Objection".

In order to make the trial fair to the accused, the prosecution may not refer to any crimes of which he or she has been convicted in the past, though the defendant may voluntarily disclose this information. (This is changing in English law.) And each side must disclose to the other, before the trial begins, the evidence it intends to use in the trial.

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Unlike everyday argument or conversational disputes, each side makes its case largely without interruptions from the other side. Each may take as long as the evidence it presents allows - it is up to the judge to decide if something is not relevant and stop a line of questioning or argument. The closest thing to interruption is the chance to challenge a witness's testimony in cross-examination. The advocates do not at any point interrupt each other. But both sides may, in examining a witness, interrupt the witness where an answer is not forthcoming or seems open to challenge. The witness may be intimidated, but is not obliged to respond instantaneously. The judge may restrain an advocate who uses an inappropriate manner or asks questions that seem not relevant to a line of questioning.

The fundamental principle of advocacy is so familiar that its strangeness is often overlooked - that is, that experts in argument (advocates) compete, under known rules, to secure conviction or acquittal for another person. On occasions, in both criminal and civil trials, people do represent themselves - but this is very rare. Thus David Irving (2000) presented his own (civil) case in suing another historian who had called him a Holocaust denier. (He lost the case, so anyone may now describe Mr. Irving as a Holocaust denier, without risk of libel.)

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A jury has a difficult task, in attending both to the detail of a witness's evidence or an advocate's interpretation, as well as to the whole case presented by either side. Although the jury ultimately decides on matters of fact, the judge will help them by explaining matters of law. Thus, a verdict may depend not only on what the accused did or did not do, but also on the offence of which he or she is accused. In England and Wales, for most criminal offences, a verdict of guilty is represented as beyond reasonable doubt. The presiding judge may help the jury with the meaning of reasonable. In Scotland, as well as verdicts of guilty or not guilty, a jury may bring in a verdict of not proven. This allows them to indicate their uncertainty - the accused is not convicted, but does not walk away clear of suspicion. According to Fiona Kerr:

"A guilty verdict means that the conduct complained of must have matched the conduct covered by the charge and that the conduct must be proved beyond reasonable doubt."

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In studying the language of the law, you may think primarily of those who speak and write it, but be aware also of listeners or readers. In the case of a jury, a very unusual kind of listening (and reading) is required. The jury is able to make requests of the judge, for example, to look again at a record of some part of a trial, but its discretion is limited by what the judge allows or thinks appropriate. Jurors may make notes, and keep these with them for the duration of a trial - these notes stay in court or the jury retiring room (a special room where jurors meet to consider a verdict, or in some kinds of break during a trial). Once the jury reaches a verdict, these notes are destroyed.

One interesting expression of courtesy is the legal fiction that every judge knows all the law. A barrister who wishes to correct a judge on a point where his or her knowledge is not complete may use a form such as, "As your lordship well remembers". Fiona Kerr notes that:

"the Barrister may well be supplying the Judge's ignorance but everyone pretends that every Judge has an encyclopaedic knowledge which is frankly unrealistic. Their Lordships have to deal with every aspect of Law and there's no way they know that much, so Counsel tells them the arguments and the law as if they know it already, even if they don't."

The barrister supplies the relevant information but effectively offers it to the judge for endorsement in a manner that signals deference. This may be the origin of "with respect". At some point in the past it may have been necessary for a speaker to exhibit real deference while correcting a superior - since discourtesy would have led to a loss of honour or reputation, as well, perhaps, as advancement that would be in the gift of the person to whom the "respect" in question was due. Nowadays the function of "with respect" (an implied correction by one with better information) remains, but its literal denotation (showing respect to one who deserves it) may be lost.

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Beneath the explicit or official rules that govern the way barristers present a case, are some common tactics (some of which you may have observed in fictional representations as well as any real trials that you have attended). Fiona Kerr observes:

There's the day-to-day code of insults with which you are probably familiar, such as "with respect" (i.e. you're wrong), "with great respect" (i.e. you are completely wrong) and, ultimately "with the greatest respect" (i.e. you are an utter fool)...

Nobody says "I put it to you" but they do a lot of being...sympathetic, appearing to agree with the witnesses and leading them by the nose to agreeing certain propositions before turning them around so that logically they ought to also agree with a proposition which affects the current case (or "instant" case as lawyers would put it); deliberately provoking a witness so that he loses his temper (case effectively over, particularly with regard to violence charges but useful anyway, as the witness will give an unstable impression and also say things he would otherwise avoid saying)... The perfect question is the one which damns either way. The questions to avoid are any to which you don't already know the answer. Witnesses are coached but only by the Defence. The Prosecution Barrister won't even meet the witnesses, including the victim, until the day and then doesn't deal with them directly except in Court. It's all part of being impartial. The State wants justice for the accused, guilty or innocent, the Defence is paid to win!

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Instrumental power - education

There are power structures in education, from nurseries to universities, but these are often concealed from those who are subject to them. Schools often produce codes or summaries or lists of rules, but these may have only a local or relative force, since the school itself is subject to laws that protect the interests of different groups. We can perhaps helpfully distinguish educational institutions (other than officer training colleges for the police and armed forces) from the armed services, which have explicit published regulations, a clear hierarchy of command, and tribunals to resolve the few disputed cases that defy this system. In recent times some UK schools and universities may have required parents or students to give assent to a code of rules or "home-school agreement", but there is no universal model for these, and few parents or students would accept that attending a school has the same force in imposing rules, as joining the army or police service. Educational establishments have some powers of last resort, such as temporary or permanent exclusion but otherwise have very much to derive their power from the consent of those who are governed.

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Traditionally, schools have exerted power on their students, but we can also see how power lies with the pupils in many situations - at the least because most of what teachers and parents expect to happen can do so only with some assent from the students.

Classroom management

What happens if one adult (usually one, though in classrooms today there may be several adults present) spends an hour - or several hours in a primary classroom - in the company of between twenty and thirty young people? Experience suggests that there is a massive variety of results. In one case, the adult imposes his or her will by various means on the students, who comply with the adult's lead or, if they defy it, find themselves excluded or subject to some kind of sanction. In another case, the children react to the adult in subversive and confrontational ways (sometimes more actively than the same children would be if left unattended in a classroom). In yet another case, the adult and children achieve a kind of equilibrium, where each takes turns, gives way or takes the lead, and all work productively towards an agreed set of goals, or give outward assent to the majority who wish to do so. There will be other situations, and maybe the same group will at different times approximate more to one position than another - so a class that meets a new teacher for the first time may do things to "test" his or her character; while over time, a class may come to like and respect a teacher, so that he or she can, on occasion, appeal to a perceived obligation. Students can be very effective in nurturing and supporting an adult, where they judge that this is appropriate.

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Many of the causes of these relationships are found in the personalities of the teachers and the learners - but they also lie clearly in the nature of the language interactions that occur between adult and pupil. And we can study these objectively. For example, we can investigate

  • the frequency with which a request takes a given form - direct imperative (do X) or question (would you do X?),
  • whether the person making the request uses a name or other form of address,
  • whether there is a "please" and "thank you" and so on.

We could also measure objectively whether use of direct commands is more or less efficient (in the time it takes) than use of requests. We might wish to relate these things to the age, ability, prior social experience and so on, of the learners.

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Another thing we might like to observe, and possibly quantify, is the ability of a student, by speaking in certain ways, to provoke a given response from the teacher. That is, how far each (student or teacher) is ready to adopt ritualised or predictable and practised rôles in an interchange: the student presses a particular button, and the teacher reacts in the expected way. Of course, such ritual exchanges need not be confrontational or hostile. They may be playful in tone, but serious in an underlying dialogue. Or they may be very friendly interchanges, in which all parties are reinforcing an existing social relationship - the teacher tells a weak joke, the pupils tell him how unfunny he is, then ask about his sick cat or whether the new baby is still keeping him awake.

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Study of classroom discourse may differ from conversational analysis, in that one person is trying to establish a rapport with a complete group at some points, with sub-groups at other points, and individuals at other times. In any one lesson it is almost impossible to achieve this, but over a series of lessons it is possible - though without any objective method, even the best-intentioned teacher may not give a fair allocation of time to all. Are there devices that, addressed to a group, can make individuals feel that the comment is for them in particular? Almost any of the methods of analysis of spoken utterances that come under the general heading of pragmatics may be fruitful when used to study language exchanges in the classroom.

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Instrumental power - business and management

There are useful general approaches that we can take in analysing and explaining language interchanges in various social contexts, but some features are relevant to one social context more than another. Private enterprise (in much of the English-speaking world) is regulated by some laws that, for example, describe and defend the human rights and welfare of employees, but it is not organized into a universal system, so that language use can emerge rather as a fashion - and power may come partly from using the current or the most novel special forms.

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Special lexis in business

Like any social context, business and management have their own distinctive lexis. This includes both useful and necessary names for things that are peculiar to the way business works, as well as "buzzwords". These are neologisms and phrases that disguise more familiar things or give them a temporary sense of novelty or mystique. In time they may become seen as clichés or otherwise ridiculous. Let's look at some real examples. Guru, which denotes a religious teacher famed for great wisdom, has become compounded into other forms such as Internet-guru, management-guru, business-guru and so on. One such management guru is Charles Handy, who has invented a special set of names for management structures, derived from the gods and goddesses of classical Greece. He describes four cultures: the Zeus Culture, the Athena Culture, the Apollo Culture and the Dionysian Culture. (It is not clear why he uses the noun form as attributive adjective for three of these, but uses an established adjectival form in "Dionysian".)

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So what do the names mean?

  • Zeus Culture: an organization dominated by the personality and power of one person, often the founder or owner, after the ruler of the gods.
  • Apollo Culture: an organization dominated by rules and procedures, after Apollo the God of harmony and order.
  • Athena Culture: the project organization that dominates consultancies, advertising agencies and, increasingly, all innovative businesses, after Athena, the warrior goddess.
  • Dionysian Culture: an organization in which the individual has the freedom to develop his or her own ideas in the way they want - an artists' studio, perhaps, or a university. They are hard to manage, these Dionysian places, but increasingly necessary if you want to employ really creative people.

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In an interview with the BBC, Charles Handy continues:

"What interested me, however, was not the downsizing or the re-engineering itself, as others began to call it, but the consequences for our individual working lives. Organizations, it seemed to me, would increasingly dispense with our services in our mid-lives as they concentrated on fewer and younger people in their cores, with only a few wise heads to keep the show on track."

You can find the interview at

In this short extract we see the business-specific terms: "downsizing", "re-engineering" and "keep the show on track".

  • Downsizing is now quite well established as a verb that means reducing the number of employees, and perhaps other features of the organization (physical premises, costs and so on). It is self-explanatory but has rather odd morphology, being a compound of adverb, and noun (size) converted to verb.
  • Re-engineering is a metaphor whereby the reorganization of people is likened to a change in a mechanized process - it is therefore rather impersonal.
  • Keep the show on track is not confined to business, but used in many kinds of human activity - it is a metaphor derived from travelling stage shows. More commonly people say they try to keep the show on the road. Charles Handy's use of "track" may come from mixing the phrase with the ending of "back on track".

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Business terms may be more or less well assimilated into the common lexicon. You can test this by looking for them in different dictionaries and seeing whether or not they appear as an entry, as with

  • blue chip (a common stock that has consistently paid dividends over a long period of time);
  • bundling (the grouping of several products and/or services into one package. It benefits buyers by condensing several purchases into one. Companies benefit by reducing the ability of consumers to compare individual product prices with those of competing companies.) The term is very common in relation to computer software, bundled with a machine for consumers to buy;
  • cherry picking (purchasing products individually from a variety of companies rather than as a bundle from one company)

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At a series of presentations from bidders to supply products to the Yorkshire and Humberside Regional Broadband Project (October 2000), each presenter in turn referred to his or her product as "best of breed" and most described a mutually advantageous arrangement as a "win-win situation". The former metaphor is taken from the Crufts annual dog show, but none of the presenters gave any hint of knowing this provenance, of relating their presentations to it, or even that "breed" is a biological term, which they were applying to computer networks, hardware and software products.

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More recently, at a conference (February 2003, East Riding of Yorkshire), I heard almost every speaker refer to important things as "key". A frequent collocation was "key drivers" - where "drivers" are influences or causes ("key drivers of change" and so on). Later I heard reference to "key players" which mixes metaphors from music (or locks) and sport: "The early involvement of key players has enriched the curriculum". Speakers several times mentioned "routeways" in a metaphorical sense: "All the routeways that they [learners] want" and "open up the routeways". Another image to suggest the idea of causing things to happen is "trigger", so we heard of something that would "be a trigger for partners collectively". "Deliver" is a verb that has become fashionable to express the idea of making something happen or simply doing something - so one speaker referred to those who are "actively engaged with delivering the concept".

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Since the late 1990s "issues" has become an all-purpose noun for abstract things, in contexts where earlier we might have seen "matters". It is frequently joined by the verb "address" so that people "address the issues" - which usually means to talk, think or do something about some other things. Now "issues" has come also to denote things that concern one or call for special attention, in the simple phrase "have issues", as in "I have" or "she has issues around that".

Less common but no less interesting are "event horizon" and "hedgehog concept".

"As we sit on the brink of this 'event horizon' for equity markets, you should ask whether this 'black hole' we are entering will deliver us to a new dimension where bulls run freely, or will it tear the market, destroying what we've built up?"

Don Wellenreiter, 'Markets at brink of event horizon', Futures, October, 2000

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The term comes from astrophysics, but entered popular use after the publication of Professor Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time. In the example above Don Wellenreiter continues the astrophysical theme with "black hole" and "new dimension", then mixes it with the traditional "bull" image (as contrasted with a bear market) and finally a third idea of tearing something up. "Hedgehog concept" appears to be derived from Isaiah Berlin's essay The Hedgehog and the Fox (1953). Berlin writes: "There is a line among the fragments of the Greek poet Archilochus which says: 'The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing'." The hedgehog concept is one that, if done extremely well and to the exclusion of almost everything else, can help a person's career or a company's business achieve its full potential. Here's an example:

"Walgreens' hedgehog concept is to run the best, most convenient drug stores with high profit per customer visit," Jorndt continued. "We know who we are and what we are all about - running drug stores. We work like crazy to execute it in our stores."

Rob Eder, 'Out-foxing the hedgehog's rivals', Drug Store News, March 25, 2002

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The notion of "buzzwords" arises from a wish to subvert or ridicule the pretentiousness and inelegance of much special lexis in business and management:

...drones and peons are slyly mocking the new corporate culture - and their cliche-spouting bosses. One of their weapons is an underground game called buzzword bingo, which works like a surreptitious form of regular bingo. Buzzwords - 'incent,' 'proactive, 'impactfulness,' for example - are preselected and placed on a bingo-like card in random boxes. Players sit in meetings and conferences and silently check off buzzwords as their bosses spout them; the first to fill in a complete line wins. But, in deference to the setting, the winner typically coughs instead of shouting out 'bingo.'

Buzzword Bingo, The Wall Street Journal, June 8, 1998

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Buzzwords are particularly opaque when combined into phrases or longer structures - as in these examples from a satirical Web site. These use a basic structure and a range of metaphors:

  • "filter it though the cappuccino machine and see if it comes out frothy";
  • "run it up the flag pole and see who salutes it";
  • "throw a crumb in the cage and see if the budgie bites";
  • "let's put that in the lift and see which floor it stops at".

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It is hard to imagine anyone's using these phrases without a sense of their playfulness - and it is possible for people to invent new versions, following this basic formula: "do X and see if/who/what/which" etc. Here are some more words and phrases:

  • assets-based assessment or approach
  • best practices model
  • democratising of information
  • grass roots initiated
  • if you'd like to climb into your helicopters so we can look at that from above
  • inclusiveness
  • infrastructure
  • leave it up to the man on the coalface
  • management bandwidth
  • measurable outcomes
  • multi-sector
  • need based or deficit assessment or approach
  • non-duplicative/reduces duplication
  • one stop shops
  • outsourcing
  • quality of life
  • reflects cultural diversity/culturally sensitive
  • scuba in your think-tank
  • singing from the same hymn-sheet
  • systems change awareness
  • window of opportunity

Are these words or phrases useful? Can you think of simpler or more direct alternatives? Why might people use these buzzwords in preference to more basic forms?

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Forms of address in business

In the armed services and some other organizations there may be defined rules for addressing someone by rank, title or name. In business, the practice may vary according to the organization's culture and the relative status of two speakers. Two modes of address that may be distinctive to business and management is the use of descriptive titles and of initials. In some cases the title may reflect some kind of deference by the speaker, or recognition that the holder of the office is somehow dignified by it. Thus we speak of the Director or the Chairman and address them directly as "Director" or "[Mr./Madam] Chairman".

Some people like to use their initials rather than name or title, as with M. Gerbeau, the chief executive of the Millennium Dome, who liked to be known as P-Y:

"Pierre-Yves (he is always called P-Y) Gerbeau is a remarkable man."
BBC profile, December 2000.

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We can also think of the fictitious oil baron J.R. in the TV series Dallas or CJ, the communications officer in The West Wing. The implication is that people in the organization know who he or she is, so that use of the initials is a form of respect or recognition. If one speaker uses title and last name (TLN), and the other first name (FN) only, we infer difference in status. The social superior (the FN speaker) may invite the inferior to use FN in response. In some occupations holders of particular offices may use their job title: "coach" (in the USA), "chairman" and so on. Generic titles to indicate status are not as common as they were, especially in business, where we may speak about the "boss" but are less likely to address him or her directly as "boss" ("chief" and "guv" are even less common). Business does not have a series of honorary titles in the way that the courts and political institutions to, or ranks as in the armed services - "sir" may still be used, but does not have a very specific reference.

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Discourse structures in business


The guidance below is summarized from an article in the Guardian's Rise jobs supplement and a Web site (, which gives guidance on effective presentations:

  • Fiddling with your tie is "distracting and this, along with the stuttered 'ums' and 'ers', 'you knows 'and 'I means', will devalue your message and make you seem less confident.".
  • When you're making a point, keep to it and don't digress.
  • If you're a newcomer in a meeting do not become too cosy.
  • Deal with interruptions. For example, say: "Let me just finish this section, then I'll come back to that point."
  • Ask questions "How often have you...?" "Can you remember a time when...?"
  • Use bridge words and phrases "as well as; consequently; in closing..."
  • Reiterate - repeat and go over important points. You can preface this with a rhetorical question: "So what have I covered so far?"
  • Pausing can be very effective. It gives the audience a chance to think about what is being said. It also gives the speaker an opportunity to breathe and think ahead.

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Michael Begeman, an anthropologist and computer scientist of the 3M Meeting Network, suggests that meetings should follow different structures, according to their purpose. He suggests that meetings can be built around three kinds of conversation: for possibility, opportunity and for action.

  • Conversations for possibility: The group acknowledges that it has come together to generate ideas, not to make decisions. Its goal is to maximize creativity.
  • Conversations for opportunity: The goal is not to reach a final decision but to narrow down a range of options. People gather information, do some analysis, and take positions.
  • Conversations for action: The goal is to decide, to commit: "We want to leave this room with our four development priorities for 2004."

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Begeman suggests that the meeting should have what he calls "rules of engagement" - and translate implicit expectations into explicit agreements, about timing, and progress.

You can even create rules of engagement about individual behavior. For example: Before anyone makes a point, that person has to find merit in the point made by the previous speaker. Or, the senior people in the meeting can speak only after the junior people have had a chance to express themselves...It's a pretty simple idea, really. All you are trying to do is to make the invisible visible, to make the automatic deliberate. These...rules of engagement give people a chance to design how they treat one another in meetings.

Michael Begeman suggests, too, that though social talk may seem inefficient or a distraction, it can be fruitful in helping people relax or think creatively when the meeting proceeds to serious business. You can find his article at:

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Corporate language

According to "Mr. Nik" at, corporate language is fundamental to business communication principles. These principles include:

  • Stating things in a way that makes them hard to argue with.
  • Stating things in a way that makes you seem important and knowledgeable.
  • Making sure what you say can't come back to haunt you.
  • Repeating what your boss said, but trying to disguise it.
  • nventing as many phrases for "very good" as possible.
  • Using warm, fluffy words to fool employees into being happy and fulfilled.

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This rather facetious description includes ideas familiar from pragmatics - such as conversational maxims and politeness or mirroring other people's speech. What "Mr. Nik" does not make clear - but pragmatic analysis does - is how one does these things. In fact, one need not "try to disguise" a repetition of what another says, either in content or manner - since this often is very effective in securing other people's cooperation.

It is possible to make some employees more contented at work, without any extra expense to the organization, by a change of job title - ideally one that suggests a more elevated status, without significant extra workload.

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"Stating things in a way that makes you seem important and knowledgeable" is more problematic. Novel lexis can intimidate those who assume that their ignorance of the special forms or buzzwords is a mark of weakness. But it can easily excite ridicule among those who see it as pretentious, and are ready to cut through the vagueness or to challenge the speaker to use plain or direct forms - or who play buzzword bingo. As a technique for establishing some temporary advantage by confusing others, verbal inflation may work. But it does not help real understanding and collaboration, and impedes exchanges where people are trying to agree on a course of action to follow.

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Specimen exam questions from past papers

I have not shown the texts used in some of the example questions - for two reasons:

  • they come from sources which are protected by copyright, and
  • teachers may want to use the questions (from real past papers) for practice exams in school - so they won't want me to have shown them here.
Question 1

Text D is a transcript of part of a lesson at a primary school. The teacher is discussing a visit made by an animal expert to the class on the previous day.

Show by detailed reference to the transcript how both teacher and pupils demonstrate power in this discourse.

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Question 2

The following text is a transcript of the first part of a BBC Radio 4 interview by John Humphrys on 5 May 2000. He is questioning Margaret Beckett MP about the local by-election results.

Show by detailed reference to the transcript how both interviewer and interviewee demonstrate power and control in their discourse.

Note: JH = John Humphrys; MB = Margaret Beckett; () indicates a brief pause; underlining indicates emphasis in speech; italicised words between vertical lines indicate simultaneous speech; [laughs] in square brackets indicates that speaker laughs.

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Question 3

The text printed on pages 6 and 7 is the first two pages from Our Children's Education - The Updated Parent's Charter, issued by the Department for Education and sent to every home in England.

Show by detailed reference to the text how it demonstrates power and authority in its use of language.

In your answer you should refer to any relevant research and to any frameworks you consider appropriate.

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Question 4

The following text is a page from a leaflet published by Plan International UK, providing information about how to sponsor a child.

Show by detailed reference to the text how it tries to make the reader feel powerful.

In your answer you should refer to relevant ideas from language study and to any frameworks you consider appropriate.

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Example texts with interpretation

Advertising text | political rhetoric | courtroom dialogue | parliamentary exchanges

First example - advertising

Transcript of an advertisement for Head and Shoulders shampoo, broadcast on television in the early 1990s.

Scene: A flat. An attractive young woman, with long dark brown hair, looks towards a door which opens. A young man enters, smartly dressed. He is holding his hands, which are covered in oil, in front of him.
WOMAN: Richard! (She is expressing surprise at his arrival - perhaps he is late - and his appearance.)
RICHARD: (Explaining both at once) The car!
Richard goes to bathroom to wash oil from hands. He turns the tap with his elbow and looks in the mirror, noticing the Head and Shoulders shampoo bottle on the shelf beneath it.
RICHARD: Head and Shoulders? (Half turns to address her over his shoulder) But you don't have dandruff!
WOMAN: (Shakes hair to let it hang down; smiles to the camera) No - but I do have great looking hair!

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This advertisement has the discourse structure of TV dramatic narrative - it resembles a scene from a soap opera (appropriate, given the product). The advertisement must be brief, so the narrative is compressed, and carried by the images as much as the dialogue. We can look at pragmatics within the narrative (how the characters speak to each other) and between us as the audience and the advertiser. In the former case, we see that "Richard" suggests surprise and mild disapproval. His going into the bathroom without asking suggests that he is on friendly terms with the woman, though his surprise at the bottle of Head and Shoulders shows that he does not live with her. "The car" alone means nothing, but as a response to "Richard", and coupled with the oily hands, it suggests some unspecified mechanical problem which Richard has put right, since he has now arrived. Moving out of the advert and looking at its relationship with the audience, we see that the writer expects us to know the conventions of naturalistic television drama, so we know how to read the scene.

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The writer uses the common lexicon of everyday speech - with the exception of the proper noun for the brand name, Head and Shoulders. The last line of dialogue, however, includes the three-word slogan ("great looking hair") that runs through the whole campaign - which included similar stories featuring other characters.

This is not a transcript of natural speech, and thus avoids irrelevant or incomplete utterances - if these were real people, then their conversation would be exemplary in observing the cooperative principle. It is, of course, scripted dramatic dialogue. The grammar is marked by minor sentences - one of one word and another of two, though with more implied - so "Richard" may suggest "Richard, you're late and your hands are covered in oil" while "The car" suggests "I'm sorry I'm late, the car had a problem but I've fixed it now..." The last two lines of dialogue are more literary - especially the "but" before "you don't have dandruff" where Richard is effectively responding to the idea that the woman might have suffered from dandruff, since she is using Head and Shoulders.

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Second example - political rhetoric

From President John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address, Friday, January 20, 1961

Mr. Chief Justice, President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, President Truman, reverend clergy, fellow citizens, we observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom - symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning - signifying renewal, as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago.

The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe - the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.

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We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans - born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage - and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world. Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

This much we pledge - and more.

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To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share, we pledge the loyalty of faithful friends. United, there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided, there is little we can do - for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.

To those new States whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom - and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.

To those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required - not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

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To our sister republics south of our border, we offer a special pledge - to convert our good words into good deeds - in a new alliance for progress - to assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of poverty. But this peaceful revolution of hope cannot become the prey of hostile powers. Let all our neighbors know that we shall join with them to oppose aggression or subversion anywhere in the Americas. And let every other power know that this Hemisphere intends to remain the master of its own house.

To that world assembly of sovereign states, the United Nations, our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace, we renew our pledge of support - to prevent it from becoming merely a forum for invective - to strengthen its shield of the new and the weak - and to enlarge the area in which its writ may run.

Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction.

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Many familiar rhetorical devices mark this text: antithetic and synonymous parallelism, lists of three and complex patterning (structures within structures). There are metaphors, imperative verbs and parentheses.

The speech opens with a direct address to some special guests and the audience more generally - both locally present and listening to the broadcast - it will end by including all of these together as "my fellow Americans". So the President first shows respect for the status of the distinguished guests, then cleverly reduces them all to the common level of citizens of the great republic - making them seem all equal, as they are before God. At once we see uses of antithetic parallelism. The first antithesis is in a "not...but" structure. (There are several in this extract: can you find them all?)

"...we observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom..."

while the next comes in two pairs (end and beginning; renewal and change)

"...symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning - signifying renewal, as well as change."

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Conjunctive "for" is used almost adverbially. The written text gives an indication of the pauses in speech - and President Kennedy completes sentences (twice) before starting others with "for", that serves as comment on what precedes it: "For I have sworn..." and "For man holds in his mortal hands..." We see how the President begins a series of sentences with the object of the main verb, where the subject is always "we" (as in the American people) - so each sentence follows the pattern: To X we say or do A, B and C.

In this section we find a list of six groups of people whom the President apostrophises: old allies, new (friendly) states, people in huts and villages (the developing world), sister republics (in Central and South America) and the United Nations. But the sixth group differs - these are the potential enemies to whom the President offers a warning. It appears that he is speaking to these various groups, but this is only a secondary concern (insofar as his speech will be reported in these places). In reality he is speaking to the people of the USA here - and letting them know his view of these other places in the world.

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The language has a stately allusive quality that comes from echoing the style of the English bible - so we read four times imperative verb clauses beginning "let" - reminding us of how God said "Let there be light", while "the word" has an echo of the opening of Saint John's Gospel. (Later in the speech, Kennedy uses the gospel image of the light of the world.) "Let the word go forth" and "let every nation know" could almost (though they do not) come from the Bible - the lexis is timeless here, and both "forth" and "nation" are words we meet throughout the Old Testament in versions in the King James tradition, such as the American Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

As well as the Bible, the President alludes to the Declaration of Independence in referring to the "rights of man" that come from "the hand of God". (Note how he speaks of God without hesitation, in vivid Old Testament terms, as having a hand - whether this is a metaphor or meant literally.) And he alludes to Rousseau's famous statement (that man is born free but everywhere in chains), and slightly alters its application so that the chains do not come from simple political or legal oppression, but from being poor. He promises: " assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of poverty..."

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The President uses simple verbal embellishment in the repetition of sound (alliteration) in lines like: "writ may run" and "dark powers of destruction". Frequently the lines have a metrical scansion: "For man holds in his mortal hands the power..." and "...have far outpaced the instruments of peace..." are both true iambic pentameters. We find other metres in "...born in this century, tempered by war..." and " strengthen its shield of the new and the weak..." The lexis of the speech comes from everyday speech - there are no specialist or obscure terms. And most are simple structurally - like a good poet he uses monosyllabic and two-syllable words: "Let the word go forth..." opens a sequence of twenty monosyllables and a solitary two-syllable word ("alike"). His images are vivid and concrete - "the hand of God", riding the tiger, handing on a torch, casting off chains and strengthening a shield.

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Third example - courtroom dialogue

Extract from the transcript of David Irving's High Court action against Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt.

In the High Court of Justice

DJC Irving

- v -

Penguin Books Ltd and Deborah Lipstadt

Extract from DAY 10: Wednesday, 26th January 2000.

MR IRVING: My Lord, the other minor matter concerns once again the press.


MR IRVING: From today's press coverage - particularly I am referring to the Times - one gets the impression they are relying more on hand outs than on their personal experiences in the courtroom.

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MR JUSTICE GRAY: I saw the report. I did not read it. What about it are you concerned?

MR IRVING: Purely, that there were things in the article which were not in the testimony yesterday, and I am not in any way pointing a finger at the Defendants on this. It may well be there are third parties who are doing this and providing copies of the Professor's report or something like that to the press. This clearly disadvantages me.

I am aware of the fact that your Lordship is sitting without a jury, so this is of less moment, but if it in any way gradually affects or put wrong guidelines on public opinion and skews public opinion in some way, then this may indirectly be seen to be affecting the outcome of this decision.

MR JUSTICE GRAY: Well, I am afraid that really is a sort of fact of life that you just have to put up with. Really, what matters here for my purposes is whether I am going to be influenced by it and, as I have not read it, I will not be.

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MR IRVING: Very well, my Lord. Clearly, it would be improper for any of the parties in this case to start putting hand outs to the press in the way I appreciate the law is on contempt which would disadvantage the other party.

MR JUSTICE GRAY: If anything that really does disturb you comes up, mention it, but at the moment I do not think there is anything that can usefully be done about what appeared or, indeed, should be done. So I think we might as well get on.

MR IRVING: Very well, my Lord. It will probably assist your Lordship if I now just in one topic paragraph, so to say, outline what I intend doing.

MR JUSTICE GRAY: I would find that very helpful.

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MR IRVING: - for the next hour, shall we say? Firstly, there will be no more traps being sprung. I am sure that the Professor will appreciate advance notification. There are no more hidden booby-traps or mines, but I am going to be dwelling briefly on crematorium No. II still for a while because I believe the Professor wishes to make certain comments on what I said yesterday.

I then want to have a look at the quality of the eyewitness evidence that the Professor was relying upon, in particular the witnesses Tauber and Bimko and Broad.

Then we will move to Auschwitz, the main camp, and have a look at the alleged gassing facilities there.

MR JUSTICE GRAY: Yes. Thank you for that.

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In this part of the trial before Mr. Justice Gray, David Irving attends to two kinds of business:

  • first, to question the reporting of the trial in newspapers, to ask the judge to consider the possibility that this may influence the outcome of the process, and
  • second, to outline the part of his case that he will present next.

The exchange is marked by formal expressions of courtesy - and, on David Irving's part, deference to the judge, yet these do not really interfere with an efficient taking of turns, and a high degree of relevance in the way the exchanges proceed. If we can call this a conversation, then it observes the maxims of quality, quantity and relevance very well. (Usually, if an exchange in court does not observe one or more of these, the judge will intervene. "Relevance" is perhaps most important; "quality" and "quantity" may depend more on the judge's discretion and attitude to the speaker.)

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Beneath this, we can see a struggle for power. David Irving invites Mr. Justice Gray to make some allowance for reporting of the case (which Irving believes to be hostile to him) - in effect, he attempts to direct the judge in his conduct of the trial. Mr. Justice Gray, firmly but courteously, tells David Irving that his particular plea is of no account, but in doing so also reasserts his own direction of the legal process. How does this work?

Irving identifies a connection between mischievous and inaccurate reporting and public hostility to himself. (This is plausible: he may be a Holocaust denier or a racist, but it is possible for the reporters to exaggerate or distort the true account of his racism.) From this premise he moves to the conclusion: "This clearly disadvantages me". But at once he contradicts this apparently firm statement with the recognition that the judge is trying the case without a jury, so the only "public opinion" that affects the outcome is his (the judge's) own. Mr. Justice Gray's reply is, on the surface, a firm rebuttal of the possibility of his being influenced by the reporting:

"Really, what matters here for my purposes is whether I am going to be influenced by it and, as I have not read it, I will not be."

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There is a hint of ridicule or sarcasm here - as the judge points out what appears to be a truism or statement of the obvious: he cannot be affected by what he has not read. In saying this, he is saying rather more - that it is not for David Irving to alert him (the judge) to possible abuses or contempts of the court. It is precisely the judge's rôle (among other things) to decide such matters, with the benefit of his expert knowledge of the legal process. In saying "...that really is a sort of fact of life that you just have to put up with..." Mr. Justice Gray is drawing a distinction between a kind of rough treatment that anyone in such a case can expect to suffer from the press and a serious contempt or indiscretion in the reporting that might in some way interfere with the process of the law. (This has happened notoriously in many high-profile jury trials.) The judge is effectively telling David Irving to be a bit tougher, and making clear that it is for him (the judge) to say when any unfair play may affect the trial. Perhaps he is aware of his robustness in dealing with David Irving's expression of worry, as he attempts some mitigation - inviting Irving, should anything appear that "really does disturb him", to mention this. This is formally polite - but seems insincere, as he has just dismissed Irving's existing account of what "really" disturbs him. It allows the judge to move onto the real business of the trial.

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When David Irving offers to outline the next part of his case, Mr. Justice Gray responds very differently from what has gone before. "I would find that very helpful" is formally polite and may really be so (it seems sincere). Now that David Irving is falling into his appointed rôle in the trial, then the judge is happy - not least because the whole process moves on, whereas the protests about the reporting have threatened to delay the trial proper.

Given the nature of this trial and the excited reporting of which David Irving has earlier complained we may be struck by the formal politeness of the outline, in which Irving expresses a concern to treat his opponent in the case (the defendant, Professor Deborah Lipstadt) with fairness. There seems, however, to be some history implied in what he says. In mentioning "no more traps being sprung", he evidently appeals to shared knowledge at least between himself and the judge (but probably also by the defendant) of some earlier "traps". Since he gives the judge this reassurance, we may ask why? Why deprive himself of a potential stratagem? One possible reason is that the judge has rebuked him previously for presenting evidence without giving the defendant's counsel notice of this. So now he is really reassuring the judge that he will follow the proper procedures and etiquette - or asking the judge for an endorsement of the way he proposes to present the next part of his case. The judge's approval is not, of course, in any sense an approval of David Irving's case. It is an approval of his complying with the expected procedure in presenting his case.

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Irving moves to a very specific outline of points of detail, identifying particular people whose testimony forms part of the accepted record of the Holocaust. Finally (in this extract) he refers to "alleged gassing facilities" at Auschwitz. Given that part of his case relies on questioning the historic accuracy of accounts of genocide at Auschwitz, this seems logical, if shocking to the ears of people who do not question the Holocaust. But it may not help influence the judge's opinion in his favour, as it is likely to excite a strong emotional reaction. That is, here his argument is not "there was a Holocaust and Professor Lipstadt is wrong in saying I denied it" but "I cannot have denied what never happened" - in effect, he is repeating the denial in court. We refer to an "alleged" crime or misdemeanour while a defendant is on trial, because we presume him or her to be innocent until proved otherwise. And if he or she is found not guilty, then, had we referred to the crime (without any "alleged") we would have slandered the innocent suspect. But the gassing of Jews at Auschwitz is not something that we attribute to anyone on trial now. (There were historic trials, and people were found guilty of war crimes.) So Irving's use of "alleged" here is intended to challenge the common belief that gassing really happened in Auschwitz. It may be enough, of course, for David Irving to show merely that it is not absolutely certain that the Holocaust happened - as this would make Professor Lipstadt's accusation seem libellous, as if she has called him a denier whereas he is really a doubter, only.

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So the surface courtesy may conceal the momentous nature of the trial. Professor Lipstadt has called him a Holocaust denier because she wants people to be aware of denial as a technique of historical interpretation, and, in a real sense, pass a moral judgement or condemn those who do it. David Irving, meanwhile, intends to submit statements about history to the same kind of legal scrutiny which applies in trials where the witness statements are made in court and refer to the conduct of those being tried.

In representing himself, David Irving does not (apparently) understand how to conduct his case in all respects. He has a rather shallow sense of how to do so, by aping the formal address he has noticed from counsel in observing trials - so we note how he calls Mr. Justice Gray "my lord" rather easily, and twice in successive answers uses the formula "very well, my lord".

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Fourth example - parliamentary exchanges

This is an extract from Hansard. It is a report of Oral Answers to Questions on Foreign and Commonwealth affairs. The questions are put to Mr. Jack Straw (Secretary of State) and Mr. Mike O'Brien (Parliamentary Under-Secretary)

21 Jan 2003 : Column 150


Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): Given that the military wing of the Palestinian Authority, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, claims responsibility for blowing up and murdering at least 23 Israelis in Tel Aviv on 5 January this year, does my right hon. Friend accept that the Palestinian Authority is at the centre of terrorist activity?

Mr. Straw: I have not seen any evidence to suggest that the people from the Palestinian Authority whom I met were at the centre of terrorist activity - rather the reverse. They expressed similar horror and repulsion at such unnecessary and gratuitous killing as anyone else who is a member of the civilised world. However, I certainly accept one implication of my hon. Friend's question: a huge agenda remains for reforming the security sector inside in the Palestinian Authority. We cannot have a situation where there are nine separate security organisations, some under effective control by the Palestinian Authority, but some no more than terrorist organisations masquerading with the authority of the Palestinian Authority. That has to be changed.

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Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that dialogue is the best way to combat terrorism? Bearing that in mind, why did he decline to meet Mr. Netanyahu when he was in London?

Mr. Straw: I had already met Mr. Netanyahu, and I gave him a very good lunch.


2. Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow): What assessment he has [sic.] made of the situation in Bangladesh. [91781]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mike O'Brien): I can confirm what my right hon. Friend said, because I was at that lunch, too.

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21 Jan 2003 : Column 151

We are concerned by reports of mistreatment of detainees, including deaths in custody, associated with Operation Clean Heart. We are monitoring closely the detention of journalists and opposition politicians, and have urged the Bangladesh Government to ensure that the due process of law is followed in all cases.

Ms King: Following the reported human rights abuses, may I thank the British high commissioner in Dhaka, David Carter, for the representations that he has made? What steps are the British Government taking to help strengthen democracy in Bangladesh? Will the Minister continue to raise the tragic case of the British resident, Surat Miah, who was beaten to death? Will he write to me on the indemnity Bill?

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Mr. O'Brien: I will pass on my hon. Friend's thanks to the high commissioner. We are following closely the circumstances in Bangladesh and particularly the arrests of some journalists and opposition leaders. We welcome the release of Hussein Chaudry and others. Democracy means allowing disagreement and debate, and in Bangladesh that means that the Awami league as well as the Bangladesh Nationalist party must have the right to voice their opinions. We have raised our concerns informally with the Bangladesh authorities, and will continue to do so. I will write to my hon. Friend on the issue of the indemnity Bill. Surat Miah, who was killed at Dhaka airport, was a British resident but not a British national. We have let the Bangladesh authorities know that there is widespread concern about the case in this country, and we have made representations in that regard.

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The transcript here uses some conventions, such as "hon." where the speaker says "honourable". All the participants observe the convention of indirect speech among themselves, mediated through the Speaker - so they always use the third person pronouns or a title: not "Do you agree that..." but "Does the Foreign Secretary agree that..." Where there is a choice of a pronoun (he/him) or a title, we find the speakers mostly use the latter. You can check this for yourself. How often does anyone say "he/she/him/her"? How often does anyone use a descriptive title in referring to another - Foreign Secretary, (right) hon. Friend, Minister and so on?

We note that the questioners often open their questions with a subordinate clause, expressing some condition or qualification of the question: "Given that the military wing of the Palestinian Authority... claims responsibility ..." and "Following the reported human rights abuses..." We note, too, how some of the "questions" are not really requests for new information, but an invitation to endorse a statement that the "questioner" makes: "does X accept that/agree that..."

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Mr. Ottaway asks two questions. But the second presupposes that Mr. Straw has answered the first by agreeing with the suggested statement - which Mr. Straw plainly has not done. So in Mr. Ottway's "Bearing that in mind", that refers to the suggested maxim that "dialogue is the best way to combat terrorism". Mr. Straw does not endorse the suggestion, nor does he refute it. Instead he evades both questions by saying that he did not meet Mr. Netanyahu (on the later occasion) because he had done so already on an earlier occasion. In doing this, Mr. Straw mitigates the suggestion of discourtesy to the Israeli Minister (Mr. Netanyahu), by producing evidence of earlier courtesy. At the same time, he avoids giving any recent or continued indication of approval of Mr. Netanyahu. In this respect, the mention of the "very good lunch" becomes relevant. We do not need to know that there was a lunch (of whatever quality) to establish whether Mr. Straw did or did not meet him. But the mention of the lunch will appear as a tangible proof that the meeting happened, and that Mr. Straw recalls this circumstantial detail - whereas he cannot, or will not, say anything about the content of the meeting in terms of who said what to whom. The junior minister supports this account by recalling the lunch. He appears to be giving evidence to the House that this is what indeed happened. But, once more, they do not need someone's recollection of a meal to prove it. Mr. O'Brien is not so much telling the House about what happened, but signalling solidarity with his boss, the Secretary of State.

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Mrs. King initially asks an open question about the Minister's "assessment...of the situation in Bangladesh". She does not (as earlier questioners do with Mr. Straw) immediately invite Mr. O'Brien to agree with some statement of hers. In allowing him to give an answer that she has not suggested to him, she may be establishing trust in the conversation - he can see that he is not having words put into his mouth. Next Mrs. King secures even more cooperation, in expressing gratitude to the servant of the crown, the British Ambassador. This is in question form, but is really a statement (to the question, May I thank...? no answer of yes or no is possible, except as a comic non-sequitur). Having secured, Mr. O'Brien's cooperation, Mrs. King moves to a series of three questions - of which the first is open, but which she effectively reduces to the two specific requests that follow. That is, she may seem to ask what (which may be anything at all) the Government is doing about democracy in Bangladesh. But really she is asking whether Mr. O'Brien will do two very specific things: to ask the Bangladesh government about the killing of a British resident, and whether he will write to her on a particular bill (a proposed piece of new legislation). Mr. O'Brien answers both questions clearly and fully - observing conversational maxims of quality, quantity and relevance. He changes the order, as the second question needs only a yes or no (he says yes - he will write to Mrs. King). There is more to say about Surat Miah - and Mr. O'Brien appears to be well informed about the details of Mr. Miah's death.

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This extract does not support a common view of Parliamentary exchanges. It does not appear to be aggressive or confrontational, and we find Mr. Straw and Mr. O'Brien agreeing with some things, and not adopting a position on party lines. On the other hand, there is a huge difference between the very serious and informed answer to Louise Ellman and the seemingly facetious response to Richard Ottaway. Does Mr. Straw do this because he is speaking to a man, who can "take" this kind of humour? Or is it a device to evade Mr. Ottaway's trap - which is to give Mr. Straw two choices, neither of which he can accept:

  • If he says that he did not want to meet Mr. Netanyahu, he may offend the Israeli state.
  • If he expresses approval of Mr. Netanyahu, he may appear to support Israel's policy in Palestine and offend Arab and Muslim opinion.

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When the subject of the questions changes from Palestine to Bangladesh, the Secretary of State hands the speaking turn to his Minister - but Mr. O'Brien establishes some continuity with Mr. Straw in that, before answering Mrs. King's question, he backs up Mr. Straw's story about the "good lunch".

The exchanges are marked by frequent use of modal verbs "may" and "will". Generally, the speech is quite expansive - whoever holds a turn is able to speak at some length without interruption. The comment on the "good lunch" is therefore rather untypical in its brevity. Either Mr. Straw has a gift for witty improvisation, or he has anticipated the question and prepared the answer, whereas elsewhere he and Mr. O'Brien are developing their responses as he makes them - the component phrases are sometimes elegant, often familiar collocations, and they are arranged loosely without elaborate rhetorical patterns. We can see a string of such collocations in "horror and repulsion...unnecessary and gratuitous...effective control...terrorist organizations".

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Mr. O'Brien's "made representations in that regard" is an example of a diplomatic or bureaucratic register - in more demotic speech this equates simply to a statement that the UK government has asked the Bangladesh government about Mr. Miah's death. In fact, since it follows the statement "We have let the Bangladesh authorities know that there is widespread concern about the case in this country", it appears to be a repetition of the initial clause - how much difference is there between letting someone know a thing and "making representations" about it? Perhaps there is a slight distinction between informing Bangladesh that people in the UK are bothered about Mr. Miah's death and their asking the Bangladesh authorities to take some action. Ultimately, "in that regard" is ambiguous - since it may mean either that the UK government has "made representations" about Mr. Miah's death in itself or about the "widespread concern" in the UK over the killing.

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Can I print this guide and photocopy it?

This guide is free for individual users - for example, teachers or students working from home - in any part of the world. You can print out the guide, but it is not ideal for printing and photocopying, and may run to many more pages than you expect.

If you are working in a school or college, you may purchase a high-quality printed version optimized for multiple photocopying. The cost of the printed version includes permission for unlimited reproduction within your institution - if you expect to make multiple copies, this will probably save on your bulk photocopying and printing costs. To obtain the printed guide, contact:

  • ZigZag Education and Computing Centre Publications
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Click on the link to go to the ZigZag Education Web site:

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