Language and Gender in the Saudi Shura Council

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The Saudi Shura Council (SSC) is the consultative assembly of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Its members debate proposals for new laws, scrutinise the operations of the civil service, and advise the King of legislative matters. In 2013, women joined the Council for the first time. This thesis offers a first account of the linguistic practices of the Saudi Shura Council as a whole, and more narrowly, focusses on the linguistic performance of female members and considers ways in which it diverges from the established practices of male members of the council. I do this by investigating the constraints placed on speakers in this quasi-parliamentary setting and by analysing the macro-functions of the council in general before conducting microanalyses of individual contributions of debates in the Council. The thesis takes a pragma-rhetorical approach to the analysis of two particular linguistic features of debates, namely: questions and pronouns. These features were chosen for more scrutiny through an emergent, bottom-up process after the transcription and close analysis of 16 sessions of the Council’s business amounting to 11.93 hours (and 76,096 words). In looking at both pronouns and questions, the tensions between form and function are explored, as are the rhetorical uses of these features. I seek to apply developments in parliamentary discourse analysis in the emerging Western tradition to a new setting, that of a deliberative, non-executive institution in Saudi Arabia. I discuss the challenges this presents. In this setting, questions do not have obvious recipients and are used for persuasive purposes rather than having a clear interrogative function. Female members pose twice as many questions as men and these are qualitatively different from those asked by men. The questions posed by women are often highly critical of the processes and procedures of the Council. Female members appear to be setting themselves apart from the ‘business as usual’ of the Council. The lack of political parties in Saudi Arabia likely accounts for the fact that more first-person singular pronouns are used in this setting than has been found in Western parliaments. Female members use first person plural pronouns to signal their (collective) gender identity and to build the persuasiveness of their arguments.