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21st European Systemic Functional Linguistics Conference and Workshop

Picking an argument: politicians' choice of reasoning strategies

Geoff Thompson, University of Liverpool

In any coherent discourse, the clauses and clause complexes are normally designed to be connected in sequence, whether or not these connections are explicitly signalled through conjunctions, conjuncts or by other linguistic means. The kinds of links that can be made can be broadly grouped into experiential (‘real-world’ connections between propositions), interpersonal (connections between moves in an unfolding interaction), and textual (connections between steps in an unfolding argument). Speakers in different contexts can draw on each of these sets of conjunctive resources to different degrees.
In persuasive discourse, a traditional distinction has been established between different modes, or means, of persuasion – logos, pathos and ethos. The ways in which conjunctive resources are deployed can be seen as related to two of these modes: logos (appeal through logical presentation of ideas) is realised partly through establishing experiential and textual connections between propositions, whereas pathos (appeal through engaging the audience’s emotions) can be construed partly through exploiting interpersonal conjunction, which constructs the discourse as interactional.
In this talk, I will explore the different strategies employed by a range of contemporary political speakers to organise their discourse so as to maximise the potential persuasive effect. Since political speeches are carefully (and usually collaboratively) crafted, I take them as examples of discourse in which choices are made with more conscious deliberation than is often the case.  I will focus on the extent to which the speakers choose to argue logically or interactionally, based on a clause-by-clause analysis of the conjunctive relations in their speeches. I will also investigate subsidiary issues such as how far they signal their reasoning steps/moves explicitly, and what kinds of signals they choose. An attempt will be made to relate the findings both to the overall effect that seems to be aimed at, and to the persona, or ethos, being constructed by the speaker, and to relate these in turn to the wider socio-cultural context of the speeches. The study as a whole is designed to exemplify and provide support for a multi-dimensional approach to the analysis of conjunction, and to contribute to the never-ending task of maintaining awareness of rhetorical manipulation.

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