May 27th — Areej Dawood: Mitigation in Prime Minister’s Question Time of British Parliament

Mitigation in Prime Minister’s Question Time of British Parliament

Mitigation is defined as the reduction of unwelcome effects which a speech act has on the hearer (Fraser: 1980). However, examining face mitigation in the context of parliamentary debates is a research topic that has not received very much attention. Perhaps one of the prototypical forms of confrontation in parliamentary debates is the Question Time in the UK Parliament of the House of Commons.  Prime Minister’s Question Time (PMQs) is considered to be a highly aggressive genre or ‘face threatening genre’ that requires face redress to serve communicative goals (Péreze de Ayala, 2001; Harris 2001; Bull & Wells 2011). In other words, Face Threatening Acts (FTAs) are central to parliamentary discourse, and consequently politicians as Members of Parliament (MPs) and the Prime Minister (PM) employ mitigation for different functions. Brown and Levinson (1987) regard mitigation as one category of negative politeness which is concerned with distance and formality. However, Caffi (1999, 2007) and Fraser (1980) view mitigation and politeness as two distinct pragmatic phenomena. In this respect, it may be useful to problematize the equation that is sometimes made between mitigation and politeness. Many scholars consider these as aspects of the same phenomenon, whereas others regard them as two separate phenomena. Adopting a qualitative methodology, the study attempts to analyse 20 sessions of PMQs from October 2015 to December 2016 to demonstrate that mitigation and politeness are two distinct phenomena, and what functions mitigation strategy has in PMQs discourse. Comparisons between the Leader of Opposition Jeremy Corbyn’s and the Prime Minister David Cameron’s linguistic and paralinguistic devices of mitigation will be also drawn.