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The Queen’s English

27 May 2010

A functional analysis of how the Queen’s Christmas broadcasts changed in response to the death of Diana Spencer

Natalie Osborn, Cardiff University

Dissertation Abstract (Year 3 undergraduate dissertation)

The stark contrast between the Royal and public mourning of Diana’s death, best explained as the stiff upper lip versus the trembling lip, drew attention to how disconnected the Monarchy has become from ‘the new, so-called emotionally honest Britain’ (Lee-Potter 2007), and gave way to a media-led backlash that saw their popularity plummet. In order to place themselves back in the public’s favour, and thus remain a publically funded institution, the Royals attempted to make themselves appear less remote. The scholarly and media world alike documented these modernising changes, which included the decision to make curtsying and bowing optional and the sparing use of ‘Royal Highness’ (Morton 1998: 293).

This dissertation examined four of the Queen’s Christmas broadcasts in an effort to discover whether this Royal-restyle extended to the Queen’s textually created identity. A review of three political speeches’ rhetorical features generated eleven hypotheses outlining eleven linguistic changes, which if employed in the Christmas broadcasts could construct and support the Queen’s new accessible image. The analysis was approached from a Systemic Functional Linguistic perspective, and thus enabled changes to be tracked across three different areas of linguistically created meaning: the enactment of relationships, the representation of experience and the construal of coherence (Martin and Rose 2003: 6).

The use of inclusive pronouns, emotionally enriched language, collective referring expressions and simplicity of structure were identified as the main strategies which helped redefine the Queen as ‘in-touch’ with her public. The conclusion centres on Billig’s (1992) observation that Royalty maintain a dual identity of ordinariness and specialness, asserting that the Queen deliberately accentuated her ‘ordinary side’ to communicate the normality of her character, and encourage Britain to identify with her ‘as a daughter, a mother and a grandmother’ (1998 Christmas broadcast).