Cultural differences in the use of epistemic modality in the European Parliament

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2016-07-01
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en
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Language plays an important role in politics and culture influences the use of language. Therefore, are cultural differences reflected in the language used by politicians? This question was the basis for our research, which focused on the use of epistemic modality (the expression of certainty) in political speeches in the European parliament. Specifically, our research question was: “Are there (national or party political) cultural differences in the use of modal adverbs and dismissive adjectives?” The research was conducted by counting the number of times modal adverbs (sure and unsure) and dismissive adjectives were used in speeches by English, Dutch and Belgian politicians in the European parliament. These results were analyzed according to country, political party differences and word type. Ultimately, we found that populist parties stand out in their use of epistemic modality, especially in their use of dismissive adjectives. Between the other political parties there is no clear trend or correlation for all three word categories - dismissive, sure, and unsure - in all three countries. Further research, for example with a larger database, looking at different ways of expressing epistemic modality or taking into account factors such as individual party properties may result in different conclusions.
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