Exasperation and incredulity!

Political commentators and journalists all have their own idiosyncratic styles when interviewing politicians. Emily Maitlis, the BBC Newsnight  commentator, often shows exasperation and incredulity in her voice through sweeping intonation falls and facial expressions. Here is a brief analysis to show how she uses linguistic features to signal this attitude.

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Conversation Analysis – BBC Question Time (part 1)

Editor: The BBC’s Question Time programme on Thursday nights seems to court controversy these days as we hold it to ever more stringent impartiality standards. In this blog, Elena Ioannidou dissects the discourse that this programme produces from a CA perspective. The blog is split into two parts. Part two is here.

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Pausing as a marker of equivocation intentions

Pausing briefly while speaking is a natural part of delivery. We pause for several reason. The most obvious one is to take breath so we can carry on speaking. Some pauses occur before content words or complex clauses suggesting that the cognitive planning processes can delay the output of the words. It has also been suggested that we pause more when we have to make choices in what words and expressions we select to say. So giving ones opinion would include more pause time on average than reporting factual ideas.

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Bull’s Typology of Equivocation (part 2)

Jessica Bott continues her series on ‘equivocation’:

When a politician is equivocating there are multiple ways they can avoid answering a question. Often a politician will have a preferred way to equivocate and avoid using some of Bull’s categories. In the Battle for Number 10 and The ITV Leader’s Debates there were three categories which were not used by the politicians, these were state or imply the question has already been answered, apologises, and literalism. However, Bull 2003 has given examples of these from Thatcher and Kinnock’s interviews. Continue reading “Bull’s Typology of Equivocation (part 2)”

Detachment

Emily Maitlis interviewed the Prime Minister, Theresa May, on Newsnight last night regarding the Grenfell Tower fire disaster. The Prime Minister had been criticised for not talking to the residents of the area when she had visited the site during the day. After the recent election campaign, when she was criticised for being aloof and distant from the electorate, some may say she has missed an important opportunity to show that she is capable of engaging with the public and taking criticism. Continue reading “Detachment”

Face management

When discussing equivocation it is worth first considering the concepts of face-management and self-presentation. Face management originated with Erving Goffman who described it as “an image of self-delineated in terms of approved social attributes” (Goffman 1967:5). This concept has been adapted by Brown and Levinson to include two sides of face, positive and negative.

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Paxman’s interview technique

By Jessica Bott, Coventry University:

With the second instalment of The Battle for Number 10 airing, and the upcoming General Election, it is interesting to look back on the 2015 general election and the first Battle for Number 10 featuring David Cameron and Ed Miliband. In this interview, both Cameron and Miliband faced audience questions and an interview with Jeremy Paxman. When examining the interview for equivocation, it became clear that Paxman has a particular interview technique when dealing with equivocation.

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The language of U-turns

We all have to make U-turns in our lives sometimes: reversing our car when we realise we’ve gone down the wrong road; changing our opinion on some topic; wearing something we swore we would never wear.

For politicians, making a U-turn is potentially face-threatening so getting the language right to explain the U-turn to the public is paramount. It seems that these days anything that has been said in the past can be overturned provided the explanation ignores what has been said and looks only forward. Continue reading “The language of U-turns”

Slip squared!

Slips of the tongue can be embarrassing for anyone speaking in public, but when the slip occurs twice in quick succession, one has to ask whether the speaker subconsciously really wanted to say something different. David Cameron (DC) was outlining during PMQs the tough steps the government had taken against ‘unscrupulous employers’ under his premiership when he mistook the word ‘employees’ for ‘employers’ – a reasonable mistake to make you might think. Continue reading “Slip squared!”

Grayling’s grilling

Political interviewing can be a frustrating affair when the politician being interviewed refuses to answer directly the questions put to them. John Humphrys, a BBC radio 4 presenter and interviewer, gave Chris Grayling, a Conservative MP, a grilling on the Today programme when he questioned him over recent remarks by Boris Johnson, one of Grayling’s colleagues. Johnson had recently compared the European Union to Adolf Hitler in their attempts to create a ‘super state’. Humphrys wanted to know whether Grayling agreed with this position or not. However, Grayling was not ready to give a direct answer and an interesting game of cat and mouse ensued which makes for a useful CA analysis. (The full transcript is given at the end.) Continue reading “Grayling’s grilling”

Hesitations

Hesitations are a natural part of unscripted spoken language. We all hesitate from time to time while speaking for various reasons: to plan what we want to say next, to correct errors or for dramatic effect. Hesitation is normally apparent in the speech output through repetitions, false starts and pauses (either filled or unfilled).

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Revealing ‘ah’ in PMQs

In a previous post I have argued that the house is a multi-faceted chamber with comments and background noise from members of the chamber combining with the current speaker to create a multi-modal discourse act. This is particularly important during Prime Minister’s questions (PMQs) when the performance of those taking part, particularly the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, can be just as significant as what they say. Support from members of the chamber at this time can often indicate how well the current speaker is perceived to be doing.

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Interruptions at Prime Minister’s Questions

Interruptions at PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions) are recorded in Hansard in a limited way, usually through the insertion of the word ‘[Interruption.]’ and are often followed by the Speaker’s call to order. The house however is collective body and background noise from the chamber during PMQs is important in signalling the general mood and degree of agreement or disagreement with the current speaker.

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