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A field test of equivocation theory: Apologies by Canadian churches to indigenous people
Unformatted Document Text:  10 approach, which requires little or no interpretation. As described earlier, a true apology would (i) name an appropriate agent of the offense and (ii) describe equally clearly the actions that constituted the offense. In the present data, the most direct form would therefore be a clause that places the church (or its personnel) as the subject in a sentence that also describes the offense with a verb in active voice; for example, We imposed our civilization as a condition of accepting the Gospel. (United 1986) This prototype provides two specific standards (analogous to the four dimensions used by Bavelas et al., 1990) by which to evaluate apologies for directness or equivocation: Did the wording admit or avoid agency for the offense and did it include or avoid describing the actions for which the apology is made? Avoiding Agency In the above example, the church (“we”) is clearly the agent of the offense, by virtue of its position as subject of the sentence. There are at least three ways to avoid agency, ranging from subtle and minimal to more obvious . First, some grammatical choices inherently minimize agency. Passive voice puts the agent in the background. The recipient or object of the action becomes the grammatical subject (and therefore the focus) of the sentence, while the agent moves to a prepositional phrase after the verb: the way the native peoples of Canada have been treated by civil governments and the churches. (Oblate 1991) Linking verbs have a similar backgrounding effect. The subject of the sentence cannot be an acting agent because there is no action in the verb. Thus, rather than having

Authors: Bavelas, Janet.
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approach, which requires little or no interpretation. As described earlier, a true apology
would (i) name an appropriate agent of the offense and (ii) describe equally clearly the
actions that constituted the offense. In the present data, the most direct form would
therefore be a clause that places the church (or its personnel) as the subject in a
sentence that also describes the offense with a verb in active voice; for example,
We imposed our civilization as a condition of accepting the Gospel.
(United 1986)
This prototype provides two specific standards (analogous to the four dimensions used
by Bavelas et al., 1990) by which to evaluate apologies for directness or equivocation:
Did the wording admit or avoid agency for the offense and did it include or avoid
describing the actions for which the apology is made?
Avoiding
Agency
In the above example, the church (“we”) is clearly the agent of the offense, by
virtue of its position as subject of the sentence. There are at least three ways to avoid
agency, ranging from subtle and minimal to more obvious . First, some grammatical
choices inherently minimize agency. Passive voice puts the agent in the background.
The recipient or object of the action becomes the grammatical subject (and therefore
the focus) of the sentence, while the agent moves to a prepositional phrase after the
verb:
the way the native peoples of Canada have been treated
by civil governments and the churches. (Oblate 1991)
Linking verbs have a similar backgrounding effect. The subject of the sentence cannot
be an acting agent because there is no action in the verb. Thus, rather than having


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