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Discourse structure and political performance in adversarial parliamentary questioning

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One of the most high-profile and glamorous speech situations to occur in many parliamentary democracies around the world is the spectacle of Question Time. Whereas most of what goes on in parliament may be drab, perfunctory and arcane, Question Time is often dramatic, adversarial, and highly publicised. It is, generally, the only parliamentary procedure to be televised and stands out in the public mind as one of the primary tests of a politician's ability to 'perform'. But how might this performance be judged? Strangely, there has been little systematic linguistic research into the characteristic ways in which this political theatre is stage-managed by its actors. Using the Australian federal parliament as a case study, this paper attempts to elucidate some of the patterns that emerge from a close analysis of all opposition questions directed to government members over a week's sitting of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Utilising the tools of systemic functional grammar, recurring discourse structures are identified as standard techniques of formal interrogation between political parties.
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Keywords: GRAMMATICAL METAPHOR; PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS; POLITICAL DISCOURSE; QUESTION TIME; SYSTEMIC FUNCTIONAL GRAMMAR

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2008

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