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Five Understanding and Believing: INTERPRETING PRAGMATIC MEANINGS IN Political Discourse

Olga Dontcheva-Navratilova

Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic


This chapter explores the interdependence of coherence and persuasion in political discourse. It argues that since the aim of politicians is not only to be understood but also to make the audience accept their representation of reality and act in accordance with what they say, the persuasive force of political rhetoric reflects the ability of the speaker to construe a coherent discourse in which the orator is represented as a reliable source of information and the information conveyed is in agreement with the previous knowledge of the participants in the communication (cf. Sperber et al. 2010). The investigation focuses on the genre of opening addresses and explores a corpus of speeches delivered by the Directors-General of UNESCO at the opening of international conferences and meetings. Based on an analysis of the pragmatic functions of deictic pronouns and modal expressions, the study shows that the orators use these linguistic devices for opening a dialogic space in which the speaker strives to construct an in-group ideology which transcends national boundaries and persuade the audience to support the suggested course of action. The findings also indicate that while the speakers exploit the inherent ambiguity of deixis and modality for strategic purposes, they also need to use disambiguating devices to reduce the risk of disturbed coherence and undesirable contextualization stemming from divergences in background knowledge of the participants in cross-cultural communication1. [1]

  • [1] This article is part of the grant project 405/08/0866 Coherence and Cohesion inEnglish Discourse, which is supported by the Czech Science Foundation.
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