Affiliative and Adversarial Discourse

The tone of the chamber in PMQs can change quite dramatically from an affiliative (cooperative) tone to an adversarial (competitive) tone depending on the topic. Affiliative discourse is not as common as adversarial discourse in the House, but an occasion such as a terrorist attack often calls for leaders to make statement to which the chamber are usually respectful. When the topic changes to more local, inter-party issues then members can change tone at the drop of a hat.


Affiliative discourse on a serious matter is characterised by a lack of interruption from the chamber. When the chamber does feel the need to provide a voice, it is usually a respectful ‘here here’ in a rather hushed tone in support of the current speaker, as in line 3, 10 and 13 below.

1.PM: our condolences to the family and friend
      of mister Ismay
3.Chamber: ((respectful ‘here here’))
4.PM: mister speaker let me also
      briefly update the house
      on the terrorist attacks yesterday in Brussels

External link to clip

7.JC: and will not allow (.)
      those who seek to divide us (.)
      to succeed
10.Chamber: ((respectful agreement))
11.JC: my right honourable friend
12.JC: to people in Northern Ireland
13.Chamber ((‘here here’))
15.JC: mister speaker (1.0)
16.      on a different subject altogether
17.      last week (.) I got  a letter
18.      from Adrian
19.      he wrote to me

External link to clip


As JC changes topics from line 15 onwards, there is a marked pause and an explicit indication of the topic change in line 16.


Within a few turn the whole nature of the house has changed and Cameron and Corbyn are shouting insults at each other together with the support of their respective sides.

PM: because we inherited
    an eleven percent budget deficit
    from the labour party
Chamber: ((shouts of agreement))
PM: all of the things
    that got us into the biggest debt
    with the biggest black hole
    in the first place
Chamber: ((shouts of agreement))
SP: Jeremy Corbyn
JC: mister speaker
    if it’s all so fine and dandy
    then the question has to be asked
    why did the (.) ((noise from chamber starts))
    why did the member for Chingford
    feel it necessary to resign
    as work and pension secretary (noise continues))

External link to clip


Pitch of voice for the current speaker can also change. Here is David Cameron at A discussing the terrorist attack in the early part of PMQs in a sombre tone. Pitch of voice is relatively low around about 150 Hz. At point B however, when Cameron is sparring with Corbyn over the budget, his pitch of voice rises significantly and averages around 200Hz.The pitch falls are more extereme indicating emotional attachment to his utterances.

A. Discussing the terrorist attack:
“details are still emerging, but our understanding is that at least 34 people were killed …”


External link to clip

B. Discussing the deficit:
“because we inherited an 11 percent budget deficit from the Labour party…”


External link to clip

PMQs 23rd March 2016

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