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A field test of equivocation theory: Apologies by Canadian churches to indigenous people
Unformatted Document Text:  17 rather than on the offenders’ actions. The second clause does not describe an offense but rather suffering that arose from other “root causes,” so there is no offense description to analyze.1 SUMMARY OF ANALYSIS Most of the churches’ descriptions of their offences in the six apologies avoided describing themselves as agents of their actions. In four of the apologies (Anglican 1993, Catholic 1991, Oblate 1991, and United 1998), not one of the 18 clauses describing an offense was in active voice with the church (or “we”) as agent. This usage did appear in half of the United (1986) offense descriptions and about one-fifth of those in Presbyterian (1994). The following summary reviews each text, in chronological order, in terms of the language used and also the topics covered. (As will be seen below, date and topic turned out to be vital to understanding the differences within and among the apologies.) The United 1986 apology used “we” as the agent for all six clauses, one with a linking verb, three with active voice, and two with active plus infinitive. In both of the latter cases, the offense description was in the infinitive with the mitigating verb in active voice (“tried to” and “helped to”). Their purpose was to apologize for religious or cultural offences, and they were not seeking to address issues regarding residential schools. Similarly, the Oblate 1991 apology was about cultural offences, with no direct reference to the residential school system. The agency in three of the four clauses was unclear, with several interpretations possible because of the complex sentence structure; in only one of these three clauses was “we” a possible agent. In the fourth

Authors: Bavelas, Janet.
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rather than on the offenders’ actions. The second clause does not describe an offense
but rather suffering that arose from other “root causes,” so there is no offense
description to analyze.1
SUMMARY OF ANALYSIS
Most of the churches’ descriptions of their offences in the six apologies avoided
describing themselves as agents of their actions. In four of the apologies (Anglican
1993, Catholic 1991, Oblate 1991, and United 1998), not one of the 18 clauses
describing an offense was in active voice with the church (or “we”) as agent. This
usage did appear in half of the United (1986) offense descriptions and about one-fifth of
those in Presbyterian (1994). The following summary reviews each text, in
chronological order, in terms of the language used and also the topics covered. (As will
be seen below, date and topic turned out to be vital to understanding the differences
within and among the apologies.)
The United 1986 apology used “we” as the agent for all six clauses, one with a
linking verb, three with active voice, and two with active plus infinitive. In both of the
latter cases, the offense description was in the infinitive with the mitigating verb in active
voice (“tried to” and “helped to”). Their purpose was to apologize for religious or cultural
offences, and they were not seeking to address issues regarding residential schools.
Similarly, the Oblate 1991 apology was about cultural offences, with no direct
reference to the residential school system. The agency in three of the four clauses was
unclear, with several interpretations possible because of the complex sentence
structure; in only one of these three clauses was “we” a possible agent. In the fourth


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