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Text & Talk

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Language, Discourse & Communication Studies

Ed. by Sarangi, Srikant

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Who are we and who are you? The strategic use of forms of address in political interviews

Peter Bull11 / 22

1Address for correspondence: Department of Psychology, University of York, YO10 5DD, United Kingdom.

2Address for correspondence: University of Lüneburg, Cultural Studies, English, 21335 Lüneburg, Germany.

Citation Information: Text & Talk - An Interdisciplinary Journal of Language, Discourse Communication Studies. Volume 26, Issue 1, Pages 3–37, ISSN (Online) 1860-7349, ISSN (Print) 1860-7330, DOI: 10.1515/TEXT.2006.002, May 2006

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In the discourse of political interviews, references to coparticipants can be expressed explicitly by proper nouns and forms of address, and they can be expressed implicitly by personal pronouns and other indexical expressions. The meaning of personal pronouns is context dependent and retrievable only by inference, and therefore is less determinate. Furthermore, it can shift as the status of the participants shifts in interaction. This may occur both in terms of social roles and in terms of roles in talk and footing.

In this context, an analysis was conducted of televised political interviews broadcast during the 1997 and 2001 British general elections and just before the war with Iraq in 2003. Question–response sequences were identified in which politicians made use of pronominal shifts as a form of equivocation. These sequences were analyzed in the context of Bavelas et al.'s (1990) theory of equivocation and Goman's (1981) concept of footing. In all but one of the questions, the interviewers sought to establish the politicians' authorship, whereas the politician typically responds in terms of the principal; in the other instance, the questioner sought to establish the position of the principal and the politician responds in terms of his own authorship. Possible strategic advantages of these forms of equivocation are discussed.

Keywords: political interviews; personal pronouns; equivocation; footing; questions; strategic communication

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