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Using past events to construct the present: Voices at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings

NISC Pty Ltd
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  • Linguistics


This article analyses the discursive thread of interpersonal meanings in several sets of documents: newspaper reports of what became known as the St James Church massacre in Cape Town in July 1993; excerpts from two applicants' and one witness' deposition at the TRC hearing on the same event, in July 1997; newspaper reporting of the hearing; an extract from the TRC Commissioners' decision granting Amnesty in June 1998; and a news report of reactions to that decision. The framework used is Appraisal theory in systemic functional linguistics, which enables a principled analysis of intersubjective strategies around issues of values and judgements. The interaction of appraisal choices made by the various protagonists in the public drama of the TRC hearings, across different texts, shows the different positioning strategies which enable the applicants and their 'hearers' (observers, journalists, the television and reading public) not so much to 'reveal' or 'discover' the past but rather to negotiate a particular present for themselves and their country. (S/ern Af Linguistics & Applied Language Stud: 2001 19(3&4): 197-214)

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