O'Driscoll, Jim and Simon-Vandenbergen, Anne-Marie (2009) Personalisation in extremist political discourse across cultures. In: 11th International Pragmatics Conference, 12th - 17th July 2009, Melbourne, Australia. (Unpublished)

A study of debates involving politicians of the extreme right in Belgium (Simon-Vandenbergen, in press) has
shown that extremist discourse differs from mainstream political discourse in a number of features which are
qualitatively and quantitatively salient. One of these features is the ‘personalisation’ of attacks on interlocutors.
Bull (2003) has found that mainstream British political interviewees frequently use the strategy of attacking the
validity of the questions and the neutrality of the interviewer. Extremist politicians, however, appear to
personalise such attacks, both by presenting an image of themselves and their party (and either explicitly or by
implication their voters) as victims of the establishment and also by using ad hominem attacks which offend
and/or attempt to ridicule the opponent. Not infrequently they seek to undermine the opponent’s credibility by
‘revealing facts’ dug up in personal history research (Simon-Vandenbergen, in press).
The present paper examines to what extent personalisation in this sense is a commonality in extremist discourse
across cultures. Similar techniques have been shown to be used by Jean-Marie Le Pen of the French extreme
rightwing Front National (Bonnafous 1998). This paper looks at data from Flemish and British extremist parties
to find out to what extent such attacks are a recurrent feature, how they are made in different languages and in
different cultural contexts. The hypothesis is that these discourse tactics are not merely reflective of the
markedly adversarial circumstances but are also inherent in the extremist ideologies of those who employ them.
The theoretical approach to this study is rooted in systemic-functional linguistics (e.g. Martin and White 2005)
but also makes use of critical discourse analysis (e.g. Fairclough 1995), the concept of footing (Goffman 1981)
and Grice’s cooperative principle.

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