CIDRAL Lecture: James Murphy, Tuesday 16 March

by | Mar 10, 2021 | Lectures | 0 comments

The next CIDRAL Public Lecture will take place next Tuesday, 16 March, at 5pm, when James Murphy will talk about ‘Historical Apologies: Legitimate Means to Recover from Crises?’

The abstract for this paper is copied in below.

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Historical Apologies: Legitimate Means to Recover from Crises?

In this talk, I want to explore apologies made by governments for historic events. Whilst such events may have taken place long in the past, the traumas that they are frequently tied to remain visceral for many of the intended recipients of such state apologies. Historical apologies may be seen as an attempt to remedy a crisis of citizenship caused by the wrongdoing of the state at some time in the past. Indeed, I have previous argued that:public statements of contrition can be viewed as a means for the state to (try to) welcome a marginalised group back into civic society; in other words, they are a starting point for a normalisation of relations between the transgressing state/state actors and people who were badly affected by their negative actions (Murphy, 2019: 261).

The purpose of this seminar is two-fold: firstly, to explore the (linguistic) nature of these historical apology statements and secondly, to defend such actions as being a legitimate and necessary ritual act which allow for the possibility of recovery from crises. I will do this by presenting historical apologies made in the House of Commons and in the Dáil Éireann, drawing comparisons between the rhetorical styles found in the discourses of British Prime Ministers and Irish Taoisigh and exploring. I will highlight the commonalities found in the ritual of apology in both nations and seek to motivate these ritual elements from both a linguistic, legal and societal perspective. In addition, the lexicon of apology will be explored and compared to what we find in quotidian apologies. We shall spend some time looking at reactions to historical apologies and what they can tell us about their social value.


Murphy, James. 2019. The discursive construction of blame: The language of public inquiries. London: Palgrave.

About the speaker

James Murphy is Acting Director of the Bristol Centre for Linguistics at the University of the West of England, where he has worked since 2014. His research focuses on political discourse and social interaction, and the confluence of the two. He works/has worked on (im)politeness theory, apologies (the focus of his PhD in Linguistics from the University of Manchester), and blame. He employs corpus approaches to discourse analysis, conversation analysis and interactional pragmatics in his work.


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