Article published in:The Pragmatics of Ritual
Edited by Dániel Z. Kádár and Juliane House
[Pragmatics 30:1] 2020
► pp. 64–87
Calling Mr Speaker ‘Mr Speaker’
The strategic use of ritual references to the Speaker of the UK House of Commons
Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) in the UK House of Commons is a ritual event, governed by a cluster of conventions. Members of Parliament (MPs) must address their remarks to the Prime Minister (PM) through the medium of the Speaker of the House, who is responsible for maintaining order during debates, and determining which MP may speak next. Due to the sacred role of the Speaker and the prevalence of conventionalised conflict avoidance between the PM and those who ask challenging questions, PMQs resembles archaic tribal councils, in which rights and obligations prevail. Yet, the importance of conventionalised indirectness and the sacred role of the Speaker do not correlate with a lack of face-threats and challenges. PMQs represents an aggressive ritual setting in which the ritual roles and rules only offer a façade to package aggression, and indeed may operate as interactional resources whereby participants can even increase the efficiency of their verbal attacks. Thus, PMQs embodies a scene that ritual experts define as ‘anti-structural’ in character: in this setting, the normative expectation in daily life to avoid conflict is temporarily suspended, to such an extent that conflict has become the ritual norm and is regarded as quintessential to this parliamentary institution.
Keywords: Prime Ministers Questions, the Speaker, face-threats, indirectness, conflict avoidance, unparliamentary language
Available under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC) 4.0 license.
Published online: 22 November 2019
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