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Personal pronouns

The potential of the English pronominal system to indicate social relations, psychological distance, and attitudes allows the Directors- General to project a coherent image of themselves and of the institution they represent, which is constantly under construction in the negotiating of the relationship between the self and the other(s) (Duranti 2006: 469). Since pronominal choice is an effective marker of the relative distance the speaker assigns to subjects or individuals represented in the discourse world, the pronouns used by a speaker to refer to social actors may be seen as being on a scale ranging from the most subjective proximal form I anchored with the speaker and progressively moving away from the deictic centre to distal forms such as they and those (Wilson 1990). Although pronominal scaling is often idiosyncratic and reflects the speaker’s perception of pronominal use, it is highly probable that individuals who construe the world from the point of view of a shared system of values and beliefs will exhibit similar pronominal distancing scales. As the analysis of the opening addresses of the Directors-general of UNESCO shows, they all use the same scale of distancing, which can be regarded as institutional:

An analysis of the distribution of pronominal reference in the material has shown that there are two statistically prominent groups of pronouns- I/me/my and we/us/our, which are used to construct the identities of the speaker and which interact with you/your to indicate direct appeal to the addressee, and they/them/their and those, referencing distant and/or negatively represented groups. Therefore, these types of pronominal reference are the focus of the study of the strategic use of pronouns for the establishing of the trustworthiness of the speaker and for the coherent representation of identities, social roles, and interpersonal relationships.

Self-reference pronouns are a key linguistic resource for the construal of the identity of the speaker, as they may indicate: subjectivity in reporting personal feelings, experience and state of mind, judgements of certainty, different degrees of authoritativeness, self-confidence and commitment of the speaker when making statements and reporting on results or accepting responsibility for a policy, and the efforts of the speaker to guide the reader towards a coherent interpretation of the discourse (cf. Ng and Bradac 1993, Donahue and Prosser 1997). Since identity is a multifaceted construct (cf. Ivanic 1998, van De Mieroop 2007), this study considers three aspects of the identity of the speaker which are regarded as complementary: (1) the institutional identity is seen as a function of the institutional role of the speaker and the authority vested in him, and is associated with a commitment to institutional opinions, attitudes and beliefs; (2) the professional identity of the speaker is based on his professional competence and expert knowledge; and (3) the personal identity reflects the subjective views, emotions and experience of the speaker and affects interpersonal relations with other individuals.

As the findings of the analysis of self-reference pronouns show, the primary function of the pronoun I is to reflect the institutional identity of the Directors-General, and its occurrence is most significant in the parts of opening addresses with marked interpersonal function-the salutation and the closure.

In the salutation the speaker establishes his institutional identity as a Director-General of UNESCO by performing the ceremonial act of opening the event, as in:

  • (1) In opening the General Assembly of States Parties to the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, I should like both to say how pleased I am to be with you today and to stress the importance of the work which is about to begin: [...]. (M’Bow, DG/85/35)
  • (2) I am delighted to be with you for the opening of this Second South-North Human Genome Conference. (Mayor, DG/94/38)

The use of the institutional I together with you referring to the audience and the proximal temporal deictic today positions the speaker and the audience in the deictic centre and thus evaluates positively speaker- audience relations and assumes shared attitudes, beliefs and values. In addition, the presence of strongly positive affective adjectives and stance nouns (e.g. delighted, happy, great pleasure) indicates high emotional intensity and personal involvement on the part of the speaker; this represents him as an active discourse participant eager to share his views and knowledge with the audience and thus contributes to the build-up of his personal identity. This latent ambiguity of I which partakes in the construction of both the institutional and the personal identity of the speaker is apparent also in the unambivalently polite expressive speech acts of welcoming, thanking and congratulating (Leech 1983: 140), in which the referent of the personal pronoun you is a particular institutional representative.

(3) Once again, Mr Executive Secretary, please accept my sincere gratitude for the welcome extended to me on this visit. I look forward to reciprocating your courtesies during your next visit to Paris. (Matsuura, DG/2006/092)

Similarly, the use of you in (4) may be interpreted as an appeal to the members of the audience as individuals who are supposed to invest their efforts in dealing with the task at hand, and at the same time, and through them, to the governments whose official representatives they are. It is significant that in the last sentence of the excerpt the Director-General shifts from I and you to we, thus asserting a commitment of all participants in the interaction to shared values and goals.

(4) The Convention provides the framework for this to take place. However, it needs the forceful application by governments to ensure that these are not simply words without actions. I implore you to give all that you can to this task. If we continue to work at the sustained pace we have adopted, we can ensure that future generations are able to enjoy and excel in doping-free sport. (Matsuura, DG/95/43)

In some cases, the speaker disambiguates the aspect of identity referred to in the discourse. Thus in (5), Mayor explicitly draws on the authority of a Director-General of UNESCO to claim the right to suggest a solution to a problem, while in (6) M’Bow invokes his origins and personal experience to enhance his commitment to resolving the crisis in the Sahel.

  • (5) May I here make the point, as Director-General of UNESCO, that in the context of a global strategy for better management of energy-including austerity in the consumption of energy, scientific rigour in considering energy alternatives, the promotion of research on new more "nature-like" energy sources and higher investment in earth security-there exists a solution to curb population growth: it is education. (Mayor, DG/93/21)
  • (6) The women, children and men of the Sahel must be provided with the minimum quantity of food that will enable them to survive until the next harvest. In this connection, I should like to say how grateful I am, not only as Director- General of UNESCO but also as a Sahelian, to all the countries, organizations and persons who have contributed to the assistance of the Sahel and who will continue in the future to help ensure the survival of its people. (M’Bow, DG/80/33)

Within the main body of opening addresses I is used to convey personal feelings and attitudes, and professional and biographical experiences; this is associated with the expression of sincerity and deep personal involvement, thus projecting the personal identity of the speaker to support the institutional views conveyed by the rhetoric. This is typically realized by matrix clauses consisting of a first person singular pronoun supported by mental-process verbs, e.g. think, know, wish, regarded as introductory signals in indirect statements which introduce into the sentence the person presenting his/her evaluation on the proposition in the following that-clause (Poldauf 1964: 251), as in:

(7) I think that we must explore this approach of considering drug addicts as persons who need care and to whom such care should be provided in the same way as any other kind of medical assistance. (Mayor, DG/95/19)

Apart from contributing to greater speaker visibility (Gosden 1993: 62), “with I as a subject the utterance has all the reliability of first-hand claim” (Hodge and Kress 1993: 92) and therefore is assigned high authority and expertise value, which matches the institutional authority vested in the Director-General as a function of his status in the organization.

Reference to professional expertise contributes to the construal of the professional identity of the speaker. Thus in (8), Director-General Mayor draws explicitly on his expertise as a biochemist and his highly successful academic career to claim authority associated with his professional identity, so enhancing the credibility of his opinion and arguments.

(8) As a brain biochemist, I must warn particularly against the damage produced

by drug addiction. (Mayor, DG/95/19)

As the above discussion indicates, the personal pronoun I points clearly to the speaker and its contextualization concerns the aspect(s) of the identity of the speaker it is intended to construct. The case of the pronoun you is more complex, as while identifying the addressee, it may refer to a particular individual or to a group, which in the UNESCO context typically comprises the audience present at the event, or the institutions (typically governments of member-states) involved in the event.

The interpretation of the self-reference first person plural pronoun we should take into consideration the inherent, context-motivated ambiguity between an exclusive and inclusive meaning with regard to the speaker (Leech and Svartvik 1994: 58); in addition, the inclusive we may have an integrative function referring to both speaker and hearer(s) and an expressive function adding an aspect of solidarity (Muhlhausler and Harre 1990). In the unmarked case of reference to a group, the indeterminacy of the boundaries of the group to which we points results in that neither the domain of reference anchored to the noun phrase for which it stands nor retrieved contextual information need disambiguate sufficiently the referent of we to guarantee identical interpretation by all interactants.

In the speeches of the Directors-General, the exclusive we referring to UNESCO contributes to the construction of the institutional identity of the speaker as leader of the organization he represents and the existential coherence of this institution. It is typically used when defining commitments of UNESCO with respect to member states and other organizations, as in (9), where the active role of UNESCO as lead agency for promoting the UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development- a role coherent with the main purposes and the expertise of the organization-is delimited from that of the larger group of institutions taking part in the project. The referent of we in the first sentence of (9), however, is inclusive and refers to all organizations within the United Nations system that are supposed to support the Decade.

(9) Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is a clearly tremendous challenge but it is one that we must all welcome and one that we must address together. For its part, UNESCO is delighted to have been designated by the United Nations General Assembly as the lead agency for promoting the Decade and for its international coordination. We shall do our utmost to fulfil this responsibility with all the energy, commitment and expertise it deserves. (Matsuura, DG/2006/092)

The inclusive uses of we prototypically indicate alignment and solidarity by positioning the addressee(s) in the deictic centre of the speaker. The occurrences of we in the material have been found to have five potential contextualizations: reference to the speaker and another individual, reference to meeting participants, reference to UNESCO and other organizations, reference to the United Nations and reference to a very large group approximating generic reference.

The integrative function of the inclusive we may be used to refer to the orator and another individual. It occurs in the salutation part of the speeches to indicate the speaker’s alignment with the addressee and to establish common values (10). The contribution of these inclusive uses of we to the coherence and persuasiveness of the rhetoric stems from their potential to establish individuals as members of an in-group whose point of view and ideology are presented in the speech, thus enhancing the credibility of the speaker by indicating continuity of past and present actions. A careful analysis of (10) reveals that while the referent of we can be determined as the two executives, the referent of the possessive our may be regarded as ambiguous referring to both the institutional representatives and their respective institutions.

(10) Let me extend my gratitude to His Excellency President Ali Abdullah Saleh for inviting me to make this second official visit to his country. I have been privileged to meet his Excellency on several occasions, first at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, then in Aden in 2002 during my last trip to Yemen, and then once again in Paris the following year. Yesterday, we met for the fourth time to discuss our bilateral cooperation in many areas. We noted with great pleasure the progress that has been made in recent years, in particular in education and culture, and addressed plans for further reinforcing our collaboration. (Matsuura, DG/2006/180)

The expressive use of the inclusive we referring to UNESCO and other organizations enhances the perception of in-group togetherness. Its reference may be indicated by disambiguating devices, such as the listing of the referents of we in (11), to avoid a potential misinterpretation of the in-group boundaries outlined by the speaker.

(11) As we work together on the whole of the EFA agenda, it is important that all of us-governments, aid agencies, civil society organizations, multilateral partners and the private sector-re-examine our priorities. (Matsuura, DG/2006/157)

The integrative inclusive we referring to meeting participants occurs mainly in the evaluation and closure of addresses. As (12) shows, this use of we is also not fully determinate, as apart from being interpreted as referring to the meeting participants, the referent of we in we must work together may be seen as including the institutions which the meeting participants represent, i.e. UNESCO and other organizations, as well as a more general audience.

(12) In conclusion, it is evident that we meet at a time of great change, great challenge and great possibility. We must work together to shape this environment in ways that enable us all to devote our best efforts to the task at hand opening up new and real opportunities for quality basic education to those who are still without them. (Matsuura, DG/2006/180)

This “shifting signifier” of we, which may have “many potential scopes of reference even within a single discourse” (Wales 1996: 62) is the source of the pragmatic strategy of over-inclusion, which is particularly typical of political discourse (Bull and Fetzer 2006: 15). When applying this pragmatic strategy, politicians use the inclusive we with reference to indeterminate groups including the audience, which yields the double inference and presumption that the orator is speaking not only on behalf of the institution he/she represents, but also on behalf of the audience and larger, typically unspecified, groups (Wales 1996: 62). This allows the orator to assume wider support for the ideology and policy suggested.

The opening of the address by Mayor at UN headquarters shows the potential of the strategy of over-inclusion to extend the referent of we (13); thus while the situational context indicates the meeting participants and the states parties of the United Nations as the most likely referent of we (the in-group boundary is defined by membership of the organization), an additional potential referent is the international community in general. The commitment to the shared common values assumed by this strategy is enhanced by the highly emotive and dialogical style of the rhetoric based on the use of a sequence of rhetorical questions.

(13) You may ask: is this just another International Year? What do we hope to achieve by it? Are we going to preach, denounce, condemn, deplore and decry some more? I hope not. I hope not, because we have seen courageous leaders create a new multi-racial democracy in South Africa. I hope not, because we have seen courageous leaders undertake the peace process in the Middle East. We are lucky because, in the last ten years, the world has begun to move from tyranny to democracy. (Mayor, DG/95/8)

Since in political discourse group identities and value systems are frequently conceptualized in terms of binary oppositions (Chilton 2004: 202), one of the most common ways of structuring the ideological space is the assertion of group identity and solidarity in opposition to outsiders, opponents or enemy groups. Self-reference by we is related primarily to the defining of the in-group and the asserting of its value system as opposed to an out-group identified by the distal deictic pronouns they and those and perceived as victim or threat/enemy. Since ethnic identification, common language, culture and territory are not available as sources for the discoursal construction of an institutional identity in an international context, group identity is established by the assertion of a “community of ideology: a shared system of beliefs about reality” (Fowler 1986: 66) and the involvement of the in-group in common actions. In the specific context of intergovernmental communication, institutional identity is constructed on the basis of “a sense of ‘belonging’, which may be defined primarily by the drawing of a boundary defining the group” (Honohan 2008: 69); this boundary is drawn by a commitment to the value system outlined by the Charter of the United Nations, to which subsequent documents and speeches delivered within the UN system refer, as in:

(14) The United Nations Charter promised our children life, not suffering and war. It was thought that the best tribute we could pay those killed during the Second World War was to spare the lives of their children, to save them from the ultimate form of violence. We made it our task to prevent war by constructing the defences of peace in the minds of men, in the well-known phrase of ArchibaldMacLeish. (Mayor, DG/95/39)

The conceptualization of the discourse world as “us” against “them” is most typical in the indicating of a problem and the suggesting of a solution to the problem moves. Thus in his address to the session of the International Narcotics Control Board (15) Mayor activates the context of war and constructs a contrast between the in-group identified by a we

whose referent shifts between the United Nations and the whole international community and the image of a “faceless” and therefore sinister enemy who threatens to kill the most vulnerable members of society-children who deserve care and protection. The referent of the pronoun they is street and working children, who are represented as victims and given the passive role of a disadvantaged group acted upon by a negative agent, and who, although not yet part of “us”, live in “our” society and thus are closer on the spatial and ideological axes to the deictic centre, and therefore should be provided with help and protection and integrated into the in-group. The distal pronoun those refers to an indeterminate group bearing strong negative connotations; it is postmodified by a relative clause which specifies the negative actions and intentions of the referent without making explicit its identity. Thus from the perspective of the institutional ideology the Director-General constructs a coherent tripartite discourse world in which “we” lead a war in order to protect “them” (the victims) against “those” who threaten “them” and “us”.

(15) I think that close collaboration is necessary to put an end to what has been going on for too long: an endless war against a faceless enemy. One of my greatest concerns in this respect is the problem of street children. Today, over 100 million children throughout the world are struggling for survival in destitution and distress. They are the street and working children who are in danger of injury, murder, violence, rape, sexual exploitation, AIDS and other diseases, hunger, solitude, contempt-and drug abuse. We see these children standing around street corners and under bridges intoxicating themselves by inhaling solvents. Their numbers are increasing daily, in the South and in the North. These children need to be taught how to live in society, they must be integrated into society, and they need to be educated to become responsible citizens and to defend themselves against those, intent on manipulating them in order to make huge and heinous financial gains. [...] (Mayor, DG/95/19)

It is obvious from the analysis of the pragmatic functions of personal pronouns above that they play a key role in the construal of the existential coherence and credibility of the speaker. Apart from its role in the coherent presentation of the institutional, professional and personal identity of the Directors-General, pronominal reference contributes to the asserting of the institutional ideology and the evaluation of political actors as proximal to or distal from the in-group identified on the basis of shared common values.

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