University of Limerick
Fitzgerald_2021_Discursive.pdf (2.64 MB)

The discursive construction of truth commitment in historical witness testimonies

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posted on 2022-09-21, 10:46 authored by Christopher Thomas Fitzgerald
This thesis appropriates Foucault’s (1976) term historical discourse’s truth matrix to conceptualise the distortive dimensions that permeate depictions of historical events. The study looks at how commitment to truth is encoded linguistically in witness testimonies and interprets the patterns and potential motivations that surround the choices of linguistic devices that achieve this. To explore this, a corpus of Irish oral histories, the Corpus of Irish Historical Narratives (COIHN), a one-million-word representative corpus of oral history witness testimonies sampled from the Irish Bureau of Military History Archive is built. The witness testimonies that make up the archive depict the events surrounding the Irish struggle for independence from the lead-up to the 1916 Rising, a rebellion against British rule in Ireland, to the signing of the Anglo Irish Treaty in 1921. The archive provides a rich source of both historical, social and cultural data, and has been the source of many publications pertaining to events of this pivotal time in Irish history, but hitherto has been unexplored from a linguistic perspective despite its potential in this regard. The present study explores the general linguistic characteristics of the testimonies before focussing on the ways in which truth commitment is signalled through adverbial expressions and mental process verbs, shedding further light on how the events they depict are constructed. This study takes an approach that utilises corpus tools to analyse epistemic modality in these statements through hedged expressions using both expectation markers and mental process verbs and, in doing so, offers a framework for the analysis of a core dimension of historical discourse’s truth matrix. At the core of this thesis is the peeling back of the multiple layers of the witness testimonies, revealing concerns relating to self-presentation as a motivation to vary commitment to truth of witnessed events. The notion of ‘paradoxical authority’ is proposed, which interprets the cumulative effect of the density of these devices, suggesting that the credibility of a witness may be boosted rather than mitigated by expressing weak commitment to the truth of a proposition



  • Doctoral

First supervisor

Vaughan, Elaine

Second supervisor

Moriarty, Máiréad





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