Behind the institutional identity: shifting from we-clusters to I-clusters in diplomatic discourse

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As research on subjectivity has already shown (Bühler 1934; Mushin 2001), speakers do not just neutrally and mechanically describe states and affairs in the world sorting to objective and prefabricated linguistic formulations, but their personal identity sometimes crops up through a range of viewpoints. This paper is both a contribution to the literature on diplomatic discourse seen as the expression of the foreign policy of a country (Marshall 1990) and to the representation of political identities in specialized discourse (Fairclough 2003).The Diplomatic Corpus (DiCo), investigated in this study, comprises all the speeches delivered by the three British foreign ministers (Cook, Straw and Beckett) during the ten years of Blair’s government and by the current foreign minister David Miliband. The speeches were downloaded from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and interrogated by Wordsmith Tools 5.0 (Scott 2007) to extract analysable information. The perspective of the analysis is phraseological in that, as Hopper argues (1987: 150), “linguistic form, often in prefabricated chunks, is shaped by discourse use”. The two most frequent personal pronouns (we and I) were analysed clustered with the same verb (e.g. We want to vs. I want to; I know that vs. we know that;), in that the investigation of the different levels of the self, or ‘footing’ in Goffman’s words (1981: 128), may help to elucidate the mechanisms of alignment and disalignment through the acceptance or resistance to superimposed roles. The analysis of the shift of the we-cluster to the I-cluster has shown the centrality of the ‘volition’ function in diplomatic language, but also how the ministers sort to I-clusters for reasons of discourse organization as well as to express their personal ‘imprint’ (Finnegan 1995) and their ‘signature’ (Martin and White 2005). Furthermore, expressions of position and attitude relevant to both foreign ministers (subjective use) and to interpersonal function (intersubjective use) have been detected.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Numero di pagine8
Stato di pubblicazionePublished - 2011


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