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Title: “Better left unsaid” : on the use of elliptical constructions in political discourse in Hong Kong
Authors: Wai, BLM
Yap, FH 
Issue Date: Dec-2012
Source: The 2012 Annual Research Forum of the Linguistic Society of Hong Kong. December 1, 2012
Abstract: Silence and ellipsis are two discourse components that have received growing attention in discourse studies over the past two decades. Silence is said to be an eloquent pause of various lengths in verbal discourse (Sifianou 1997) used to govern or organize social relations (Halliday 1994) by seeking for approval, or otherwise challenging or denying a prior speaker’s utterance (Agyekum 2002; Nakane 2007; Ephratt 2008). Ellipsis, on the other hand, is a nominal or clausal dismissal in both written and verbal discourse (Halliday and Hasan 1976) that draws meaning from antecedents given the context (Spenader 2005).
Political discourse focuses primarily on mobilizing public sentiment for the addresser to achieve a certain purpose. In Hong Kong, both silence and ellipsis are found to be used simultaneously in the political discourse. However, there have been few studies on silence and ellipsis in political discourse, with research on silence in political discourse in Turkey (Alagözlü & Sahin 2011) and ellipsis in political discourse in Romania (Cornilescu & Nicolae, 2012) among the few pioneering studies. No research on the interrelationship between these two discourse components within the same speech seems to have been reported so far. This paper seeks to explore their relation to fill the research gap.
Hong Kong has a political structure under two contrasting forces. It enjoys the social and economic autonomy granted by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) but it also has to safeguard the national interest as spelled out by the Central Authority in Beijing. This is especially obvious in the 2012 Chief Executive election. Given the dual role of promoting the local benefit for Hongkongers and safeguarding the national interest of the PRC, the Chief Executive nominees not only need to evoke public sentiment in order to achieve a lead in public opinion polls but they also need to subtly seek for support from the Election Committee where the influence of the Central Authority is strong. One of the strategies deployed by the Chief Executive nominees is the intricate and skillful use of silence and ellipsis.
Speeches of all three candidates during the 2012 election campaign period, including the Election Committee Forum and the Chief Executive Election Debate, are chosen for analysis in this paper. Findings from this study reveal that the candidates sometimes use silence to trigger in the hearer’s mind the completion of an unstated compliment in praise of the speaker himself. It was also found that candidates sometimes attack their rivals by setting up an elaborate topic that is then followed by ellipsis of some negative conclusions which is further followed by a long silence to allow the audience to fill in the gap themselves. In this presentation, we will further discuss these strategies in terms of politeness strategies, in particular efforts to mitigate political face-threats to the speaker, especially when silence is particularly associated with positive impression in eastern culture (Alagözlü & Sahin 2011).
Keywords: Silence
Political discourse
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