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Journal of Language and Social

Psychology
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Expressing Commitment When Asking Multiunit Questions in


Parliamentary Debates: EnglishRussian Parallels

Maria Sivenkova
Journal of Language and Social Psychology 2008 27: 359 originally published online 10
September 2008
DOI: 10.1177/0261927X08322478
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Expressing Commitment When


Asking Multiunit Questions in
Parliamentary Debates

Journal of Language
and Social Psychology
Volume 27 Number 4
December 2008 359-371
2008 Sage Publications
10.1177/0261927X08322478
http://jls.sagepub.com
hosted at
http://online.sagepub.com

EnglishRussian Parallels
Maria Sivenkova
Minsk State Linguistic University, Belarus

The present study investigates the expression of commitment in multiunit questions


(MUQs), that is, questions consisting of several structural components, asked during
British and Russian parliamentary debates. The discursive manifestations of two commitment types in the sequential organization of parliamentary questions are analyzed.
First, institutional commitment is verbalized by means of several types of structural
components employed by questioners to promote convincing legislative proposals and
expose inefficient ones: backgrounders (e.g., opinions), metacomponents (e.g., signposting), intensifiers, and other types of components. Second, ingroup commitment is
related to various components helping to promote members of Parliaments (MPs)
party interests and discredit adversaries: evaluative turns (e.g., praises, reproaches),
metacomponents (e.g., criticisms of answers), and other types of structural elements. In
addition, some qualitative and quantitative differences in the expression of commitment
in English and Russian are analyzed.
Keywords: commitment; cross-cultural debates; institutional discourse; multiunit
questions; parliamentary debates; sequential organization

uestions in parliament have been examined by political scientists and linguists


from a variety of perspectivessocial, discursive, rhetorical, and gender. To
illustrate, Franklin and Norton (1993) provided an account of the evolution of parliamentary questions, Walton (1991) examined question fallacies in Canadian parliamentary debates, Chilton (2004) analyzed the institutionalized turn-taking system
regulating the questionanswer interactions in the British parliament, Prez de Ayala

Authors Note: Maria Sivenkova would like to express her deep gratitude to Anita Fetzer, Marjut
Johansson, and Peter Bull for their outstanding work, continuous support, and intellectual stimulation.
The authors heart-felt appreciation also goes to the reviewers, whose insightful comments and suggestions proved very helpful. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Maria
Sivenkova, the School of Intercultural Communication, Department of Communication Studies, Zaharova
Street 21, Minsk 220034, Belarus; e-mail: maria.sivenkova@gmail.com.

359

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360 Journal of Language and Social Psychology

(2001) investigated the linkage between parliamentary rules and politeness strategies
in Question Time, Bird (2005) focused on the gender aspect of representations of
womanhood or manhood in British parliamentary questions. However, the sequential organization of questions asked during parliamentary debates still presents a
research desideratum.
Several studies have highlighted methodological and practical advantages offered
by the analysis of correlations between the structural complexity of activity types
and the presence of multiple tasks their participants have to handle (e.g., Johansson,
2002; Meierkord & Fetzer, 2002). As Meierkord and Fetzer (2002) pointed out, The
coherent structuring of sequenced utterances is the fundamental premise of any
theory which investigates combinations with regard to the configuration of parts and
the configuration of a whole (p. 4). According to Edwards (1997), sequentiality is
the heart of talks capacity for performing social actions (p. 100).
Why study sequentiality in parliamentary questions? In the authors view, the
interplay between various structural components of multiunit questions (MUQs)
sheds light on how members of Parliament (MPs) express their multiple commitments in what is often believed to be the most adversarial of parliamentary genres
(Prez de Ayala, 2001). Furthermore, MPs commitments arguably have a significant
impact on the social life of many countries, with parliamentary questionanswer sessions being a powerful tool enabling their vigorous public scrutiny.
The idea that multifunctionality of MUQs is achieved by incorporating specialized components into their sequential structure draws on several studies of MUQs in
a variety of institutional settings. They have demonstrated that MUQs structure
depends heavily on the requirements of activity types. For instance, in focus groups,
moderators ask MUQs to guide the respondents understanding of unusual market
research questions, secure participation by providing candidate answers, and manage opinion production (Puchta & Potter, 1999). In police interrogations and court
trials, MUQs are often asked to address the activity-specific dilemma of securing
precise answers without constraining (or leading) the witness unnecessarily (Linell,
Hofvendahl, & Lindholm, 2003, p. 547).
The present analysis also draws on a number of compelling contrastive studies of
political and media discourse exploring a variety of linkages between political interaction and culture (Bayley, 2004; Fetzer & Lauerbach, 2007). As this article maintains, the
expression of commitment is among the important culture- and/or institution-bound
variables whose analysis extends our understanding of parliamentary MUQs.

Method and Data


The corpus consists of 9 transcripts of debates in the House of Commons and 15
transcripts of plenary sessions that took place in the State Duma in 2002-2007. The
transcripts were randomly selected from the Hansard records, the official record of
the British Parliament, and Stenogrammy zasedanij Gosudarstvennoj Dumy (records

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Sivenkova / Commitment in Parliamentary Questions 361

of the State Dumas sittings), the Russian counterpart. In total, 150 Russian MUQs
and 150 English MUQs were analyzed.
Parliamentary MUQs are stretches of talk consisting of two or more structural
components delivered together by the questioner. They are mostly asked during
Question Time in the British parliament and Government Hour in the Duma, when
time is specifically allocated for question asking (although MUQs are occasionally
posed at other points in parliamentary sitting, for example, when an issue is being
debated). As the data show, MUQs represent the most promising type of questions
in terms of commitment-expressing devices and constitute the majority of all questions asked in the two Parliaments (approximately 90% of all single- and MUQs in
the Russian data and approximately 70% in the English data).
It should be noted that the term question is used in the study in its functional,
rather than syntactic, interpretation and refers to multiunit sequences aimed at eliciting some information (e.g., How does he intend to resolve it [the situation]? April
6, 2005) or explanation from the respondent (Will the secretary of state explain that
vast disparity? December 18, 2007). To select functionally coherent data, only
MUQs containing at least one information- or explanation-seeking component (both
in the interrogative and declarative form) were chosen. Interrogatives conveying criticism or opinions and other types of questions in the formal sense were only
included in the samples as part of MUQs centered on requests for information or
explanation (on various types of questions; see, for example, Bull, Elliott, Palmer, &
Walker, 1996; Heritage & Roth, 1995; Ilie, 1999; Walton, 1991).
Single-unit parliamentary questions, that is, questions whose sequential structure
consists of an information- or explanation-eliciting component only (e.g., What
progress has been made in ensuring that schools are offering extended activities?
February 8, 2007) and clusters of such questions were not included in the samples.
In other words, the presence of requests for information and the multiplicity of
components are two necessary conditions for MUQs in this study. To illustrate,
Excerpt 1 was selected for analysis because it contains a request for information (in
this case, two requests expressed in Components 2 and 4) and has a multiunit
sequential structure, in which the information-seeking components are supported by
one evaluative turn (Component 1) and one intensifier (Component 3).
1) I also applaud the work of the Secretary of State and the progress that has been made
in the Democratic Republic of Congo (1). Will he tell us a bit more about what President
Kabila said . . . about providing space for the Opposition (2)? We have met Opposition
politicians here who have been concerned about that (3). What support can we continue to
give via EUSEC . . . in particular in relation to the crucial issue of the security forces and
their integration (4)? (Hansard records, House of Commons, May 9, 2007)

Furthermore, seven categories of question components were identified based on


the functions they perform (see the overview of structural components below). These

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362 Journal of Language and Social Psychology

categories were applied to analyze the sequential structure of each MUQ and various
commitment-expressing tactics.

Sequential Organization of Parliamentary


MUQ and Commitment
As the study showed, while posing questions, MPs typically incorporate seven
types of elements to satisfy their informational needs and express their multiple
commitments.

Overview of Structural Components


Requests for information/explanation. As mentioned above, all MUQs selected
for the present study contain at least one request for information or explanation
around which other question components are grouped. The distinction between
information and explanation is introduced because many parliamentary questions are
rather motivated by the questioners desire to hear the respondents argumentation
behind a decision, than to receive new information.
Backgrounders. This structural component typically includes a brief description of
the current state of affairs, statistics, instances of represented discourse (Johansson,
2006), an argumentative/explanatory sequences contextualizing the request for information/explanation.
Metacomponents. This group serves to orientate the respondent toward the forthcoming series of turns by making known their sequential structure (I have one further question for the Minister May 10, 2007), reasons for asking the question (I
have not heard a single policy proposal from the Conservative party, February 8,
2007), and other relevant pieces of metacommunicative information.
Evaluative components. Unlike the above types of question components that
often convey implicit assessments of proposed legislation and political opponents,
these elements specialize in expressing direct positive or negative evaluations (The
right hon. Gentlemans point . . . is well made, May 10, 2007; So the chancellors
announcement in his budget was absolutely worthless, April 6, 2005).
Etiquette-related components. This group includes various turns allowing the
questioner to be conventionally polite: gratitudes (I thank the minister for listening
to the debate on this issue, May 10, 2007), interruption clichs (I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, February 10, 2003), apologies (I hope that the secretary
of state will forgive me if I missed the answer to my question in an earlier exchange,
December 18, 2007).

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Sivenkova / Commitment in Parliamentary Questions 363

Intensifiers. To attract public attention to controversial issues, MPs may choose to


stress the topicality/gravity/appropriateness of the problems under discussion (In the
current climate, is it not vitally important that the government be open about what has
been said . . . on various issues, not least the war in Iraq? February 8, 2007).
Requests for action. Similar to the information-seeking component, requests for
action are considered a basic function of Question Time (Parliamentary Questions,
2007, p. 2). In the data, requests for action vary in the degree of imposition, ranging
from tentative suggestions (Ne imeet li smysla rassmotret dale i, skazem, podumat o sozdanii rekreacionnyx zon dlja igrovogo biznesa?Would it make sense
to consider further and perhaps think about setting up recreational areas for the game
business? April 21, 2006) to rather insistent requests (Will my hon. Friend please
sort out the situation immediately? February 8, 2007).

Commitment in MUQs
As a complex phenomenon that requires multidisciplinary scrutiny, commitment
has sparked the interest of many researchers and practitioners in the field of organizational behavior. In particular, management scientists, industrial and organizational
psychologists, sociologists, and economists explore various commitment forms,
ways to measure it, the links between commitment levels and organizational variables, the consequences of commitment, and its cross-cultural aspects (e.g., Cohen,
2003; Fink, 1992; Guest, 1998). In this strand of research, commitment is usually
defined as the relative strength of an individuals identification with and involvement in a particular organization (Mowday, Porter, & Steers, 1982, p. 27).
At the same time, philosophers of language and linguists focus on various commitment-expressing devicesgrammatical and lexical markers as well as discursive
strategies that reflect speakers involvement in the discourse. In this sense, the phenomenon is conceptualized as an attitudinal notion related to evidentiality and epistemological stance (e.g., Brandom, 1994; Krkkinen, 2003).
In the present study, both approaches are combined to trace how work-related
attitudes are made manifest through the complex sequential structure of parliamentary MUQs. The author argues that commitment in parliamentary MUQs can be analyzed from three different perspectives: institutional, ingroup and personal, and
various structural components are instrumental in expressing them.
Institutional commitment refers to MPs professional responsibility. As van Dijk
(2004) aptly put it, Whatever MPs are actually doing in a parliamentary session,
such as giving speeches, criticizing the government, or asking questions, all these
actions are defined . . . as engaging in the global acts of legislation or governing the
country (p. 356). This appears to suggest that MPs main institutional commitment
is to articulate, argue for, and eventually ratify useful legislative incentives.
Ingroup commitment is made manifest through the discursive processes responsible for the upholding of MPs party interests and discrediting of opponents. As the

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364 Journal of Language and Social Psychology

present study illustrates, institutionalized parliamentary question asking is regarded


by many MPs as a legitimate arena for expressing their political engagements.
Personal commitment is related to the aspect of MPs identity responsible for
their positive self-presentation and face management. This commitment type is discursively realized through a number of etiquette-related components presenting
questioners as polite and considerate (e.g., gratitudes, interruption-clichs) and disclaimers enabling questioners to mitigate the face-damaging remarks they incorporate in MUQs. Due to space consideration, this article will only consider institutional
and ingroup commitment types (for a detailed analysis of self-presentation and face
management in political discourse see, for example, Bull, 2003).
It should be noted that two of the three commitment types are related to the influential face model of political interviews proposed by Bull et al. (1996). The authors
distinguish between three categories of face which politicians must defend: their
own personal face, the face of the party which they represent, and face in relation to
endorsing or not-endorsing influential others. The first and second categories correspond to the personal and ingroup commitment types differentiated in the present
article. Institutional commitment, however, is different from Bull et al.s third face
category and reflects MPs key institutional role as legislators.

Institutional Commitment: We Need to Have That Point Clarified in


the House Today
According to the data, discursive representations of institutional commitment prevail over the other two commitment types. In fact, 96% of Russian and 80% of
English MUQs contain structural elements expressing institutional commitment.
Although all the seven categories of components can convey MPs institutional commitment, it is through the extensive use of backgrounders, metacomponents, and
evaluative turns that this commitment type is verbalized.
Backgrounders play a significant role in the expression of MPs professional
commitment. First, they contextualize the information- or explanation-seeking component, thus making the whole MUQ easier to understand and respond to. Second,
they help to highlight sound proposals, expose inefficient ones, and draw attention
to topical issues.
In the data, backgrounders often explicate MPs institutional commitment in tandem
with metacomponents and intensifiers, as Excerpt 2 illustrates (the questioner is a
member of the ruling party, the respondent is the minister for regional development):
2) Spasibo, Oleg Viktorovic [predsedatelstvujucij] (1). Ja, c estno govorja, uze slyal
nekij otvet na postavlennyj vopros (2). No tem ne menee, Vladimir Anatolevic, ja
znaju, c to nekij novyj impuls s vaej storony pridan rabote po obmanutym dolc ikam
(3). I xoc u poprosit vas: v tec enie otvedennogo vremeni kratko (4) oxarakterizujte,
pozalujsta, sostojanie del v tom voprose (5). Obojti etot vopros my segodnja ne imeem
prava (6; October 11, 2006).

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Sivenkova / Commitment in Parliamentary Questions 365

2) Thank you, Oleg Viktorovich [Chairman] (1). Frankly, I have already heard a certain
answer to the question posed (2). But nevertheless, Vladimir Anatolievich, I know that
a certain new impetus on your part has been given to the work on deceived mortgage
lendees (3). And Id like to ask you, within the time allocated, could you briefly
(4) characterize the state regarding this issue (5). We have no right to evade the matter
today (6).

This MUQ is the 11th in a series of 19 housing-related questions alternately


posed by several Duma fractions. It is asked after the respondents and two colleagues failure to address an important issue in their ministerial statements. It relates
to the controversial situation with home mortgages in which some 80,000 people did
not get the residential property they had been financing due to some changes in housing investment projects and is a tough topic for the minister to face. The questioner
begins his MUQ centered on a request for information on the problem-solving
progress in turn (5) with a gratitude to the chairman for the opportunity to pose the
question expressed in turn (1). He proceeds with a metacomponent in turn (2) referring to the ministers previous answer and implying the questioners discontent with
its quality (nekij otveta certain answer). In fact, the minister has mentioned the
mortgage situation, although in a different context, by way of providing illustration
of the scope of housing problems, in his response to an earlier question. It is probably this previous mentioning of the mortgage issue as part of a frightening number
of concerns that makes the questioner infer that the problem might not be addressed
in detail unless more pressure is put on the minister. The questioner continues his
multiunit sequence with a backgrounder in turn (3) referring to the respondents
work on the issue and positioning the questioner as well-informed about the ministers responsibilities. The backgrounder is followed with another metacomponent
conditioning the forthcoming answer in turn (4), according to which the respondent
is expected to provide a brief answer within the time allocated. This metacomponent
probably reflects the questioners apprehension that unless specifically asked, the
addressee is likely to provide an unsatisfactory lengthy/evasive response that runs
the risk of being interrupted if the time limit is not observed. Finally, the questioner
reinforces his contribution with an intensifier highlighting the importance of an
answer in turn (6). This intensifier appears to emphasize MPs professional responsibility to ensure close scrutiny of this topical social issue. It is noteworthy how the
interplay between the four elements demonstrates the questioners institutional commitment and leaves the respondent with no options but to cooperate and face the controversial issue.
As the data indicate, metacomponents conveying criticism of ministerial statements/
answers serve as powerful devices expressing MPs institutional commitment. In
fact, they ensure that poor performances do not pass unnoticed and high professional
standards are set and maintained (iz vaego doklada prakticeski nicego ne ponjatnoOne can understand next to nothing from your report, April 13, 2007).

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366 Journal of Language and Social Psychology

Another noticeable subtype includes metacomponents highlighting the advantages


of having desired answers. In Excerpt 3, drawn from the same questionanswer session as Example 2 above, a combination of criticism directed at the respondents failure to answer and an allusion to the representative-constituent accountability work
together to press the minister for regional development for a precise answer on the
troubling issue of housing modernization.
3) Sluaja repliki kolleg, ja tak ponjal, c to vs ze na osnovnoj vopros, kotoryj my zdes
zadavali, my ne poluc ili c etkogo otveta, otveta, kotoryj nam budet neobxodim pri
rabote v okruge, pri otvetax na voprosy nayx izbiratelej (October 11, 2006)
3) While listening to the colleagues interventions, I realized that still we havent
received a clear answer to the main question weve been askingthe answer that well
need while meeting our constituents and answering their questions.

In this study, evaluative components and backgrounders demonstrate the most


salient cross-cultural differences as far as the tactics of institutional commitment
verbalization are concerned. It is by means of evaluative components that solidarity
with convincing proposals is often expressed in parliamentary MUQs. In the English
data, the most frequent tactic used to approve of a decision is to welcome it (I welcome the draft Bill, February 8, 2007). In the Russian data, indications of support
prevail over other forms of positive assessments ([F]rakcija Spravedlivaja Rossija
toz e podderz it ratifikaciju togo soglaenija[T]he Fair Russia fraction will also
support the ratification of this agreement, June 29, 2007). The Russian tactic
arguably demonstrates a stronger degree of institutional commitment to the proposal
under parliamentary scrutiny. In fact, such declarations of support also denote the
MPs/partys agreement to vote in favor of the related piece of legislation (e.g., My,
bezuslovno, podderz ivaem takoe vae predloz enie i budem golosovat za ti
popravkiWe surely support such your proposal and will vote for these amendments, October 11, 2006), whereas their English counterparts only express a positive evaluation of the proposal with no explicit commitment to vote for it.
As for backgrounders, the main difference in the two sets of data concern the
preferred ways of packaging the desired propositional content. In the English data,
backgrounders often take the form of interrogatives inquiring about the respondents knowledge base (Is he aware of the rising tide of concern among those in
the film industry that this is the third Finance Bill in three years? April 6, 2005) or
asking for agreement/acceptance (Does the Minister accept that the current scientific consensus is that we need a reduction in emissions of 80 per cent . . . to prevent climate change raising temperatures by 2 degrees? May 8, 2007). Whereas in
the Russian data, backgrounders formulated as declaratives prevail. They generally
express stronger degrees of speaker/hearer commitment to the validity of the content expressed in comparison with interrogatives (Vy xoroo znaete, cto v svjazi s

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Sivenkova / Commitment in Parliamentary Questions 367

prinjatiem trx zakonov . . . bylo oc en mnogo ostryx vystuplenijYou know


very well that there have been very many critical statements after the three laws
were passed, September 20, 2006).
A similar tendency toward greater explicitness in institutional commitment
expression in the Russian data is made manifest by backgrounders conveying MPs
opinions. It is not uncommon for British MPs to attribute the opinions they wish to
express to the respondent (Does not the Minister accept that the nursery sector is
approaching crisis? February 8, 2007), or use various linguistic devices to disguise
their authorship (see Chiltons [2004, p. 56] detailed analysis of embedded clauses,
adjuncts, and presuppositions serving to make certain propositional content less
salient or more taken for granted). By contrast, Russian MPs go as far as to use
explicit opinion markers in their MUQs (Vot to, ja scitaju, meaet z e vam, navernoe . . .This issue, I think, might be preventing you from. . . June 29, 2007).
Underlying the above differences, there seem to be several institutional constraints originating from the general prohibition on using Question Time as an
opportunity to debate. In particular, according to the rules set by the House of
Commons, a parliamentary question must not offer or seek expressions of opinion
and convey information nor advance a proposition, an argument or debate
(Parliamentary Questions, 2007, p. 3). Although Reglament Gosudarstvennoj Dumy
(The State Dumas parliamentary rules, see http://www.duma.gov.ru) does not allow
debating during Government Hour either, it provides no detailed rules regarding the
exact content and format of questions, which gives Russian MPs more freedom in
the expression of their institutional commitments while posing MUQs.
Thus, the expression of institutional commitment is an intrinsic part of parliamentary question asking. It is discursively realized by means of several types of
structural components and their combinations that all work together to ensure
detailed scrutiny of legislative proposals. The contrastive analysis of its discursive
manifestations reveals a number of institution- and/or culture-bound differences.

Ingroup Commitment: Is It Not True That the Government Are All


Talk and No Action?
As the data show, various combinations of backgrounders, evaluative components, and metacomponents allow MPs to realize two major tactics of ingroup commitment: positive same-party presentation and negative other-party presentation.
One typical way to manipulate public opinion is by means of choosing the right
question topic and incorporating appropriate facts in the backgrounders. In fact,
members of the opposition typically focus on the governments failures to invite
unfavorable inferences and generalizations among the general public (Recent
figures show that a record 30,000 people became insolvent in the first 3 months
of this year, May 10, 2007), whereas members of the ruling party highlight their

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368 Journal of Language and Social Psychology

successes (On the question of unemployment, in my constituency it has dropped


like a stone since 1997, May 10, 2007).
However, questioners in parliament often go further and explicitly assess their
adversaries policies. As the data show, the degree of explicitness in the expression
of the opponents disapproval intensifies when party leaders are involved in the interaction. In Example 4 below, Mr. Osborne (then shadow chancellor) throws a series
of allegations at Mr. Brown (then chancellor of the exchequer).
4) If the right hon. Gentlemans employment policies are so popular, how come 500
Labour councillors and one First Minister are looking for jobs this week? (1) He is
responsible for the failures of this Governmentthe pensions raid, the chaotic administration of tax credits, the record stealth taxes, and the chronic waste of money. How
can he be the change that the country wants when he is responsible for the present
mess? (2) He has been in hiding for a week (3) but I ask him to answer this simple question (4): why did Labour lose last week? (May 10, 2007).

In Example 4, the interplay of several structural components serves Mr. Osbornes


main purposeto discredit the Labor government. In fact, the backgrounders in turns
(1) and (3) bringing to light the layoffs in the Labor camp and the chancellors absenteeism project a negative image of the government. The same purpose is achieved by
the evaluative component in turn (2) containing four instances of negative evaluation
of the chancellors policies: the pensions raid, the chaotic administration aggressive
metaphors, the medical metaphor which connotes lingering financial disorder (the
chronic waste of money), and the mention of record high stealth taxes. They are
employed to discredit the respondent and the party he represents. In addition, the metacomponent in turn (4) containing an explicit performative (I ask him to answer)
emphasizing the speakers power to question the chancellor adds vigor to the questioners attack. Finally, the loaded request for information in turn (5) bringing to the
limelight the Labor defeat completes the face-threatening MUQ.
The strong link between institutional status and answerability in parliamentary
context sheds light on how metacomponents help questioners to discredit the rival
party, that is, express ingroup commitment. In excerpt 5 below, a member of the
opposition initiates his question by drawing attention to the officials previous failure to answer it:
5) Perhaps the chief secretary would care to answer the question that the economic secretary did not answer earlier (1). According to independent experts, the abolition of dividend tax credits in 1997 has cost pension funds a minimum of 100 billion (2). What
assessment has the Treasury made of this? Does it disagree with that figure, and if so,
what is the figure? (May 7, 2007).

In Example 5, the metacomponent in turn (1) expresses ingroup commitment by


contributing to the party clash between Labor and Conservative MPs. In fact, it

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Sivenkova / Commitment in Parliamentary Questions 369

seems to convey the sweeping generalization that since all ministerial colleagues are
bound by collective responsibility, the failure of two officials is a reflection on the
whole government.
The comparison of ingroup-commitment-expressing components in the two corpora shows that their frequency is significantly higher in the English set of data (42
English MUQs comprising 28% of the total number of English examples vs. 15
Russian MUQs comprising 10% of the total number of Russian examples). However,
the comparison of two basic strategiespositive same-party presentation and negative other-party presentationreveals no substantial differences in the ratios across
two samples: 74% of examples of negative other-party presentation versus 26% of
instances of positive same-party presentation in the English data; 80% of instances
of negative other-party presentation versus 20% of examples of positive same-party
presentation in the Russian data.
In sum, the presence of components expressing ingroup commitment highlights
an interesting aspect of parliamentary MUQs in terms of culture- and/or institutionspecific differences.

Conclusions
The present study has examined the role of several question components in the
expression of British and Russian MPs institutional and ingroup commitments. The
complex sequential structure of parliamentary MUQs appears to reflect the multiple
interactional tasks parliamentarians handle while participating in parliamentary
question asking. In particular, formulating, explaining, and defending sound legislative proposals and policies; highlighting and opposing unconvincing ones; and
upholding party interests tend to loom large on MPs communicative agenda in the
two parliaments.
Although most of the question component types join forces in solving the multiple interactional tasks and expressing institutional and ingroup commitments, several categoriesin particular, backgrounders and metacomponentsare more
actively involved in the discursive processes described.
The results suggest that the frequency of elements expressing institutional commitment in parliamentary MUQs is higher than those verbalizing ingroup commitment. This finding is not surprising given that MPs primary responsibility is to do a
competent job of providing appropriate legislation, with debating and party clashes
being prohibited during questionanswer sessions in the two parliaments. This finding seems to argue against a popular view of parliamentary question-asking as a
juvenile spectacle with the sole aim to score political points and make the other side
look foolish (Rutland, 2005, p. 53). In fact, this study has shown that soliciting
information is accompanied by scoring political points in only slightly more than
one quarter of analyzed British MUQs and in only one tenth of Russian MUQs.

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370 Journal of Language and Social Psychology

The contrastive analysis has revealed both similarities and differences across the
two samples. The former relate to the set of question components involved in
expressing the two commitment types. The latter concern variations in frequencies
of commitment-expressing devices and question components surface structure.
In particular, British MPs tend to express their ingroup commitments more often
than their Russian counterparts. One possible explanation may be related to the differences in the political systems of the two countries. In fact, one important feature
of contemporary British politics is the two-party system with one party in office and
one strong opposing party, with contestation being an important dimension (Rutland,
2005). In contrast, the fourth Duma (2004-2007), whose transcripts provided the
major part of Russian MUQs in the study, was a one-party Parliament with approximately 70% of seats belonging to United Russia and the remaining seats shared
between the other three fractionsthe Communist Party of Russian Federation, the
Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, and Motherland (see Donaldson, 2006, p. 246
for details)who failed to form a strong opposing coalition to the party in office. In
this context, an emphasis on self-promotion and party clashes by the vast majority
in the Duma would have seemed contrived and redundant. In addition, lack of consolidation in the opposition camp may account for the low frequency of structural
components employed to express Russian ingroup commitments.
The contrastive results also suggest that Russian MPs tend to be more explicit while
expressing their institutional commitment. This pattern is especially evident for one subcategory of evaluative components (declarations of support as verbalizations of party
commitments), the packaging techniques emphasizing speakers/hearers epistemic
stance (formulations of backgrounders as statements referring to the speakers/hearers
knowledge base), and open expression of opinions intensified by opinion markers. This
finding is in keeping with past research describing Russian communicative culture as
more direct in contrast to British culture (e.g., Watts, 2003). But do the differences qualify as culture or institution bound? More research on cross-cultural aspects of commitment expression in parliamentary discourse of different cultures as well as contrastive
analysis of commitment-expressing behavior across various discursive spheres would
help to answer the question.

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Maria Sivenkova, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Minsk
State Linguistic University. Her research program in contrastive pragmatics examines cross-cultural similarities and differences in the realization of various speech acts and genres.

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