The strategic value of pronominal choice: Exclusive and inclusive “we” in political panel debates

Bram Vertommen


This study explores the use of the first person plural pronoun “we/wij” by government and opposition party members in panel debates from the Flemish talk show De Zevende Dag. Both groups of politicians enter this arena with divergent communicative goals, which has clear implications (i) for the type of propositions in which subclasses of “we/wij”-pronouns are generally involved and (ii) for the politicians’ assessment of the status of these propositions. Patterns with regard to these three implications are analyzed by means of a systemic functional approach supported with quantitative data. It is claimed that government and opposition party discussants either employ distinct patterns in accordance with their different aims, or that they use similar ones, albeit with divergent discourse functions. The former scenario turns out to be true in the case of exclusive uses of “we/wij” and the latter in the case of inclusive meanings. In that way, the paper sheds light on subtle differences in how government and opposition party discussants argue and deal with the invisible presence of an overhearing broadcast audience.

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