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 ...
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’)) (2.0) 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
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))
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 …”
B. Discussing the deficit:
“because we inherited an 11 percent budget deficit from the Labour party…”