According to van Dijk (2014), the notion of knowledge is inextricably linked to discourse. He also notes that the study of discourse has become increasingly multimodal embracing not only the verbal but also the interplay of image, sound, gesture, facework, and body position during spoken interaction. As such, “knowledge may be acquired, presupposed and expressed in these many multimodal forms, and may directly influence the formation of multimodal mental models language users use to construe when they understand text and talk” (van Dijk, 2014, p. 10). Starting from this premise, the paper presents a comparative case-study on the multimodal construction of meaning during Prime Minister’s Question Time (PMQs) (Bates et al., 2012) focusing on two historically significant PMQs: Theresa May’s before she announced her resignation (22nd May 2019) and Margaret Thatcher’s on the day of her resignation (22nd November 1990). As a political discourse genre, PMQs are extremely popular with the general public so much so that people can book their entry to the House of Commons’ Public Gallery to observe. They are also digitally available on the Parliament website, and thus easily accessible. Extracts drawn from original television recordings are examined, accounting for verbal and non-verbal cues using the multimodal annotation software ELAN (ELAN, 2020). The multimodal critical discourse analysis framework (Machin & Mayr, 2012), and the discourse-historical approach (DHA, Reisigl & Wodak, 2001) provide the theoretical backdrop necessary to address the following research questions: 1) In which ways do semiotic and verbal resources work together to produce meaning (Jewitt, 2014; Kress, 2013) in PMQs featuring Thatcher and May? and 2) How do these women leaders compare in terms of communicating political messages and disseminating “knowledge” in the context of the predominantly male parliamentary culture? Initial findings indicate that, despite occasional similarities regarding the employment of rhetorical strategies for persuasion, the two women leaders have very different ways of delivering their message, both on the verbal and non-verbal levels, thus producing an altogether different effect on their interlocutor and audience.
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