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Debating or displaying political positions?

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This paper investigates the reference statements and rhetorical functions of politicians’ reactive (“uptaking”) statements in parliamentary debates as well as their self-positioning effects. Uptaking moves may be used by speakers for pursuing strategic, global discourse aims. The specific properties of such ‘uptaking’ utterances and their sequential embedding in the unfolding discourse provide analysts with cues of speakers’ global interactional goals. Results indeed show how global and local pragmatic factors impact content, form, and rhetorical function of MPs’ uptaking statements. The data comprises four Austrian parliamentary sessions, which follow the inaugural speech each newly appointed Austrian chancellor has to deliver in the Austrian national assembly at the beginning of a legislative term. Overall, four fifths of the uptaking discourse units (consisting of ‘reference to previous statement plus comment’) refer to the government program, the inaugural speech or a previous MPs’ statement. Whereas a closer investigation of the reference statements seems to indicate a left wing vs. right wing rhetorical pattern (with left wing and center parties referring to ‘official’ sources, while right wing parties set their own topical agenda), investigating the rhetorical functions of the uptaking discourse units reveals a clear government vs. opposition (but no party-specific) rhetoric: Government party MPs praise the government program (or the inaugural speech), opposition party speakers criticize it. Both groups thus focus on the interpersonal plain of interaction. In contrast, argumentative (or counter-argumentative) uptaking discourse units which would indicate speakers’ willingness to enter into a rational discourse (in a Habermasian sense) with their political opponents are extremely rare. Through their rhetorical activities, the vast majority of government and opposition speakers thus reinforce and perpetuate already known political stances and affiliations in front of a third party (i.e. the general public watching the debates via TV or Internet livestream) rather than presenting themselves as rational, problem-focused politicians.

Keywords: parliamentary debates; political rhetoric; second position moves; uptake

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 31, 2018

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