The power of the eyes

In face-to-face communication, the eyes (and eye gaze) are the most powerful part of the body we have. John McDonnell illustrated this on Sunday when he directly turned to the camera during an interview on the Andrew Marr show (BBC). The change in gaze from interviewer to viewer (and then back) provided a powerful shift from the traditional interview format to one addressing the television viewer.

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PMQs Watch: Howls of laughter

Jeremy Corbyn (JC) had to brave howls of laughter when he accused the Prime Minister of a ‘long answer’ at PMQs on Wednesday. Corbyn had previously provided a quite long question himself which the house had barely tolerated. When he accused the Prime Minister (PM) of being long-winded the Conservative benches immediately sensed the irony and burst into a chorus of laughter, putting Corbyn off his stride. Continue reading “PMQs Watch: Howls of laughter”

PMQs Watch: 35 seconds

In the House of Commons, the force of an utterance often receives its legitimacy from the reaction of the audience: the members of the chamber. In PMQs on Wednesday, David Cameron (PM), in reaction to an unauthorised question from a member, told Jeremy Corbyn to ‘put on a proper suit, do up your tie, and sing the national anthem’ – a reference to the Leader of the Opposition’s noted informal wear and unwillingness to sing the national anthem. Continue reading “PMQs Watch: 35 seconds”

George Galloway

George Galloway was interviewed recently on the Daily Politics show (BBC) after his weekend surprise appearance on stage for the “Leave the EU” campaign. Galloway provides an interesting example of how politicians can often try and control the floor and line of questioning in interviews, a well-known equivocation technique. Continue reading “George Galloway”

Wooooo, slow down Andy!

Jeremy Corbyn made his first appearance on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday. Marr was clearly ready to ask him lots of conflictual questions and within the first few seconds of the start of the interview was interrupting his guest. The first interruption came about due to a slight pause by Corbyn’s in his speech to clear his throat. Microseconds can be important in high profile TV interviews and Marr clearly took the pause and the falling intonation as a sign that Corby had finished his turn. Continue reading “Wooooo, slow down Andy!”

Applause for Benn

Hilary Benn received a rousing reception after completing his speech during the debate in the House of Commons on whether to bomb ISIS in Syria. The house even broke into applause, generally frowned upon by the Speaker, which lasted for over 40 seconds. Most of the applause was from the Conservative benches who had proposed the motion to which Benn was supporting but a good deal of applause also came from his own benches. Continue reading “Applause for Benn”

John McDonnell and The Little Red Book

John McDonnell took some flak when he produced Chairman Mao’s little red book from his pocket in the House of Commons on Wednesday, probably a first in the history of Parliament that the book has made an appearance. However it is not first time  that Chairman Mao has been quoted. The table below shows the frequency of mentions of the phrase ‘Chairman Mao’ since the 1950s. Continue reading “John McDonnell and The Little Red Book”

PMQs Watch – Audience as Participant

Most commentators noted that the tone at Wednesday’s PMQs had shifted significantly from the reserved and hushed tones of previous meetings to a more rowdy and challenging tone yesterday. This illustrates what I call the ‘audience as participant’ effect whereby the audience (the chamber of MPs in this case) claims certain rights to the floor despite the fact that the conversation at PMQs is globally managed by the Speaker and turns are allocated by him. These rights include the right to cheer, jeer, laugh at and generally interrupt proceedings to voice their feelings, attitudes and concerns. Whilst the audience can never be called on to take a turn, they are able to influence the discourse as if they were a participant and the current speaker has to negotiate with this to establish the floor in the way he or she sees fit. Continue reading “PMQs Watch – Audience as Participant”

PMQs Watch

Corbyn negotiates with the Chamber

The example below is a good example of how the current speaker at the dispatch box, Jeremy Corbyn in this case, often has to negotiate with the chamber to establish their rights to the floor. Corbyn has become well known for introducing questions from members of the public at PMQs. In the transcript below, it is interesting to note that the ‘groans’ from the Conservative benches actually start when Corbyn says ‘sent’, interrupting Corbyn and indicating that the Conservative benches were perhaps waiting for the first question of this type. Continue reading “PMQs Watch”

PMQs Watch – The Corbyn Stare

PMQs returned to our screens on Wednesday after a brief rest bite for the party conferences. David Cameron went up against Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the Labour party, for the second time since Corbyn was elected. Corbyn again selected some questions from the public, a technique that has been dubbed ‘Corbyn’s crowdsourcing’, but followed these up with more specific points to try and pin Cameron down on certain issues.

One feature of Corbyn’s delivery that seems to have emerged is the ‘Corbyn stare’, a rather dismissive eye gaze at a certain section of unruly MPs in the chamber, usually accompanied by a prolonged pause in his delivery. As I have suggested before, long pauses in a speaker’s delivery are rare in the chamber because of the potential loss of face and a possible interruption by the Speaker of the House. MPs prefer to use repetition and false starts to hold the floor while dealing with unruly sections of the chamber. Continue reading “PMQs Watch – The Corbyn Stare”

PMQs Watch – Corbyn’s Crowdsourcing

PMQs saw a new leader of the opposition (LO) on Wednesday, Jeremy Corbyn, who won a rather surprising victory in the Labour party leadership election. Corbyn’s first appearance and performance at PMQs was scrutinised very carefully by the media demonstrating the importance of this weekly event in the House of Commons.

When Corbyn stood up for the first time there was a resounding cheer from the Labour benches for their new leader. The Conservative benches were surprisingly quiet. In the past they would often cheer the Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband, as he stood up in a mocking tone to suggest that he does not get enough support from his own benches. They clearly took a principled decision not to do that for Corbyn’s first PMQs but it remains to be seen whether they will continue like this in the future.

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Hesitations

Hesitations are a natural part of unscripted spoken language. We all hesitate from time to time while speaking for various reasons: to plan what we want to say next, to correct errors or for dramatic effect. Hesitation is normally apparent in the speech output through repetitions, false starts and pauses (either filled or unfilled).

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Revealing ‘ah’ in PMQs

In a previous post I have argued that the house is a multi-faceted chamber with comments and background noise from members of the chamber combining with the current speaker to create a multi-modal discourse act. This is particularly important during Prime Minister’s questions (PMQs) when the performance of those taking part, particularly the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, can be just as significant as what they say. Support from members of the chamber at this time can often indicate how well the current speaker is perceived to be doing.

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Pausing and Tone Units

The definition of a tone unit is a “a stretch of speech uttered under a single … intonational contour” (Du Bois 1992). The key to this definition is a ‘single intonational contour’. Thus the decision as to where to split a string of words based on tone units depends primarily on the change in tone. Pausing and lengthening of syllables can also be used as cues for the termination of the unit although these are secondary.
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Tabloid Journalism?

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader candidate, raised an interesting question of what is tabloid journalism’ while being interviewing by Krishnan Guru-Murthy on Channel 4 News recently. The comment reaches to the heart of political interviewing: who has the right to set questions and what constitutes appropriate answers?

Corbyn is asked by Guru-Murthy (Int) why he had called Hamas and Hezbollah ‘friends’ in a recent speech.

Int: why did you call Hamas and Hezbollah your friends?

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