Prime Ministerial self-reported actions in Prime Minister’s Questions 1979-2010: A corpus-assisted analysis

Stephen Bates, Alison Sealey

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This article analyses prime ministerial self-representation in the context of responses to the questions put to four recent British Prime Ministers during Prime Minister's Questions. From the transcripts of these PMs’ contributions to PMQs, all the clauses with ‘I’ as subject were identified. Corpus analysis software was used to calculate which are the most frequent verbs of which ‘I’ is the subject when PMs answer questions during PMQs. The verbs were classified semantically, and pragmatic and rhetorical patterns were identified. Results show a high proportion of cognitive and communicative processes, as opposed to verbs denoting physical or material actions. Through the close analysis of PMs’ utterances featuring structures with ‘I’ and three frequent verbs – think, understand and say – we explore patterns in their argumentation, management of face and authority, and identification with the norms of this political institution as well as those of the wider society. We argue that normative influences on what PMs represent themselves as doing include explicit constraints on parliamentary behaviour, an adversarial culture that persists despite long-standing criticisms, and the requirement to conform both to the conventions of this ritualised discourse situation and to broader socio-cultural expectations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18-31
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Early online date14 Sept 2016
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2016


  • Prime Minister's Questions
  • Parliament
  • Parliamentary discourse
  • Corpus-assisted analysis
  • Face management
  • Adversarial discourse


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