ANALYSIS OF THE UK PRIME MINISTERIAL DISCOURSE ON BREXIT: THEMATIC CHOICES AND THEIR IMPLICATIONS

Ray C. H. Leung

Abstract

This study of political discourse focuses on three selected texts about Brexit delivered by British Prime Minister Theresa May in early 2017. The texts represent three rare occasions on which May revealed to the public in detail what “negotiating objectives” the government has for Brexit. The three texts are: (i) the Lancaster House speech; (ii) Britain’s Article 50 notification letter; (iii) May’s oral statement in Parliament on the notification letter. Analytic tools from systemic functional linguistics (SFL) were employed to investigate the thematic choices in these three texts. The findings shed light on the interface between discourse and ideology. For example, frequent reference to the British society in the experiential Themes of the Lancaster House speech suggests that May tries to give prominence to the voice of the British people while addressing the general public. In the Article 50 notification letter, textual Themes which signal an adversative relation construe May’s optimism about the prospect of Brexit. Furthermore, the first-person plural pronoun we in the thematic position serves multiple purposes, one of which is to establish solidarity between Britain and the European Union. The current research underscores the contributions of SFL thematic analysis to the study of ideology in discourse.

Keywords

systemic functional linguistics; thematization; Brexit; Theresa May; discourse analysis

Full Text:

References

Show references Hide references

Alyousef, H. (2016) ‘A multimodal discourse analysis of international postgraduate business students’ finance texts: An investigation of theme and information value.’ Social Semiotics 26(5), 486-504. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/10350330.2015.1124518

Ballmann, K. (2017) Brexit in the News: Frames and Discourse in the Transnational Media Representation (Master’s thesis). Stockholm University, 11 June 2017. Online document. 7 Sep 2017 <http://su.diva-portal.org/smash/record. jsf?pid=diva2%3A1107235&dswid=-9001>.

Bloor, T. and Bloor, M. (2013) The Functional Analysis of English: A Hallidayan Approach. 3rd ed. London: Routledge.

British Broadcasting Corporation (2013) ‘David Cameron Promises In/Out Referendum on EU.’ The United Kingdom, 23 Jan 2013. Online document. 3 Sep 2017 <http:// www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-21148282>.

Brown, P. and Levinson, S. (1987) Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Clarke, H., Goodwin, M. and Whiteley, P. (2017) Brexit: Why Britain Voted to Leave the European Union. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Daneš, F. (1974) ‘Functional sentence perspective and the organization of the text.’ In: Daneš, F. (ed.) Papers on Functional Sentence Perspective. The Hague: Mouton. 106-128.

De Oliveira, L. (2015) ‘A systemic-functional analysis of English language learners’ writing.’ DELTA: Documentação de Estudos em Lingüística Teórica e Aplicada 31(1), 207-237.

Eggins, S. (2004) An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics. 2nd ed. New York: Continuum.

The Electoral Commission (2017) ‘EU Referendum Results.’ Online document. 3 Sep 2017 <https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/find-information-by-subject/electionsand- referendums/past-elections-and-referendums/eu-referendum/electorate-andcount- information>.

Forey, G. and Sampson, N. (2017) ‘Textual metafunction and theme: What’s ‘it’ about?’ In: Bartlett, T. and O’Grady, G. (eds) The Routledge Handbook of Systemic Functional Linguistics. Abingdon: Routledge. 131-145.

Fries, P. (1994) ‘On Theme, Rheme and discourse goals.’ In: Coulthard, M. (ed.) Advances in Written Text Analysis. London: Routledge. 229-249.

Ghadessy, M. (1995) ‘Thematic development and its relationship to registers and genres.’ In: Ghadessy, M. (ed.) Thematic Development in English Texts. London and New York: Pinter Publishers. 129-146.

Goffman, E. (1981) Forms of Talk. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Halliday, M. A. K. (1978) Language as Social Semiotic: The Social Interpretation of Language and Meaning. London: Edward Arnold.

Halliday, M. A. K. (1994) An Introduction to Functional Grammar. 2nd ed. London: Edward Arnold.

Halliday, M. A. K. and Hasan, R. (1976) Cohesion in English. London: Longman.

Halliday, M. A. K. and Matthiessen, C. (2004) An Introduction to Functional Grammar. 3rd ed. London: Edward Arnold.

Halliday, M. A. K. and Matthiessen, C. (2014) Halliday’s Introduction to Functional Grammar. 4th ed. Abingdon: Routledge.

Kong, K. C. C. (2004) ‘Marked Themes and thematic patterns in abstracts, advertisements and administrative documents.’ Word 55(3), 343-362.

Kong, K. C. C. (2014) Professional Discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lavid, J., Arús, J. and Moratón, L. (2012) ‘Genre realized in Theme: The case of news reports and commentaries.’ Discours: Revue de Linguistique, Psycholinguistique et Informatique. A Journal of Linguistics, Psycholinguistics and Computational Linguistics 10(1), 3-21.

Paltridge, B. (2006) Discourse Analysis: An Introduction. London: Continuum.

Park, K. and Nam, D. (2015) ‘Analysis of thematic structure in L2 writing: A systemic functional perspective.’ SNU Journal of Education Research 24(1), 65-88.

Potter, L. (2016) ‘Ideological representations and Theme-Rheme analysis in English and Arabic news reports: A systemic functional approach.’ Functional Linguistics 3(1), 1-20. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/s40554-016-0028-y

Prime Minister’s Office (2016a) ‘EU Referendum Outcome: PM Statement.’ The United Kingdom, 24 June 2016. Online document. 3 Sep 2017 <https://www.gov.uk/ government/speeches/eu-referendum-outcome-pm-statement-24-june-2016 >.

Prime Minister’s Office (2016b) ‘G20 Summit: PM Commons Statement.’ The United Kingdom, 7 Sep 2016. Online document. 3 Sep 2017 <https://www.gov.uk/ government/speeches/g20-summit-pm-commons-statement-7-september-2016>.

Schleppegrell, M. (2012) ‘Systemic functional linguistics.’ In: Gee, J. and Handford, M. (eds) The Routledge Handbook of Discourse Analysis. London: Routledge. 21-34.

Scollon, R., Scollon, W. and Jones, R. (2012) Intercultural Communication: A Discourse Approach. 3rd ed. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell.

Searle, J. (1975) ‘A taxonomy of illocutionary acts.’ In: Gunderson, K. (ed.) Language, Mind, and Knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 344-369.

Thompson, G. (2014) Introducing Functional Grammar. 3rd ed. London: Routledge.

Van Leeuwen, T. (2008) Discourse and Practice: New Tools for Critical Discourse Analysis. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wodak, R. (2009) ‘The discursive construction of national identity.’ In: Wodak, R., de Cillia, R., Reisigl, M. and Liebhart, K. (eds) The Discursive Construction of National Identity. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 7-48.

https://doi.org/10.5817/DI2018-2-45


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.