'Grandmas' in debate: A first-person story told in Taiwan's presidential debate as a rhetorical device and public reactions to its credibility

Ping-Hsuan Wang


This study examines data from a 2016 presidential debate in Taiwan to explore the use of first-person narrative in political discourse as a rhetorical device, and how public reactions to its credibility are influenced by the narrative's context. While previous studies of political debate discourse (e.g. Kuo 2001) investigate, for example, the use of "constructed dialogue" (Tannen 2007), there is a lack of studies focusing on first-person narrative in political debates. Using three-level positioning as outlined by Bamberg (1997), I analyze a narrative featuring a grandma character told by presidential candidate Eric Chu, also comparing it to another candidate James Soong's "grandma narrative." I argue that the context places constraints on the effects of their narratives. Whereas Chu's narrative, a traditional Labovian first-person story, is widely ridiculed with memes for its lack of credibility, Soong's narrative, a habitual narrative, receives little attention.

The analysis shows how Chu's narrative serves his rhetorical purposes and suggests why the public doubts its credibility. At level 1 (characters positioned vis-a-vis one another), Chu presents himself as non-agentive with constructed dialogue, thereby excusing an earlier decision he made – failing to keep his promise to finish his term as a mayor. At level 2 (speaker positioned to audience), he switches from Mandarin to Taiwanese, a local dialect, which can be seen as an appeal to his current audience. At level 3 (identity claims locally instantiated), the grandma character draws on the archetype of elderly women in Taiwanese culture, fundamental to national economic growth, while his description of praying at a temple casts him against the local tradition of religious practices in Taiwan. The study helps fill the knowledge gap regarding first-person narrative in political discourse, while highlighting the context in which political narratives are embedded and contributing to understanding positioning in Taiwanese public discourse.


narrative analysis; three levels of positioning; political discourse; presidential debate; Taiwan; credibility

Full Text:


DOI: https://doi.org/10.3765/plsa.v2i0.4057

Copyright (c) 2017 Ping-Hsuan Wang

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Donate to the Open-Access Fund of the LSA

Linguistic Society of America

Advancing the Scientific Study of Language since 1924

ISSN (online): 2473-8689

This publication is made available for free to readers and with no charge to authors thanks in part to your continuing LSA membership and your donations to the open access fund.