Ambiguity, responsibility and political action in the UK daily COVID-19 briefings

Williams, J. ORCID: 0000-0002-5832-3019 and Wright, D. ORCID: 0000-0003-2300-5915, 2022. Ambiguity, responsibility and political action in the UK daily COVID-19 briefings. Critical Discourse Studies. ISSN 1740-5904

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This paper investigates how pronouns were used by UK government speakers to allocate responsibility to themselves and others in all 92 daily televised COVID-19 briefings that were held between March and June 2020. We identified the referent for every use of the first-person plural pronoun (1PL) as ‘inclusive’, ‘exclusive’, or 'ambiguous' and analysed the transitivity patterns in which these pronouns act as Participants. We argue that the UK government uses the inherent ambiguity of this pronoun to strategically mitigate their own responsibility for controlling the spread of the virus, while increasing the amount of responsibility to the general public. In doing so, we propose a transparent and replicable systematic method for identifying the referents of pronouns, which may be useful to other discourse analysts faced with the challenging task of pronoun resolution.

Item Type: Journal article
Publication Title: Critical Discourse Studies
Creators: Williams, J. and Wright, D.
Publisher: Informa UK Limited
Date: 19 August 2022
ISSN: 1740-5904
Rights: © 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Divisions: Schools > School of Arts and Humanities
Record created by: Laura Ward
Date Added: 25 Aug 2022 12:41
Last Modified: 25 Aug 2022 12:41

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