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Text & Talk

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Language, Discourse & Communication Studies

Ed. by Sarangi, Srikant

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Volume 26, Issue 1


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

Peter Bull / Anita Fetzer
Published Online: 2006-05-09 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/TEXT.2006.002


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

About the article

Peter Bull

Peter Bull is a Senior Lecturer at the University of York (United Kingdom) in the Department of Psychology. Most of his published output has been concerned with the microanalysis of interpersonal communication. He is the author of The Microanalysis of Political Communication: Claptrap and Ambiguity (2003), Communication under the Microscope: The Theory and Practice of Microanalysis (2002), Posture and Gesture (1987), Body Movement and Interpersonal Communication (1983), and coeditor (with Derek Roger) of Conversation: An Interdisciplinary Perspective (1989). His research interests focus on the analysis of political interviews and political speeches, and also on nonverbal communication.

Anita Fetzer

Anita Fetzer is a Professor at the University of Lüneburg (Germany) in the Department of English. She has had a series of articles published on rejections, context, political interviews, and intercultural communication. She is the author of Negative Interaktionen: Kommunikative Strategien im britischen Englisch und interkulturelle Inferenzen (1994) (‘Negative interactions: communicative strategies in British English and intercultural inferences’) and Recontextualizing Context: Grammaticality Meets Appropriateness (2004), and she is the coeditor of Conversation Analysis: New Developments (2000) (with Karin Pittner), Rethinking Sequentiality: Linguistics Meets Conversational Interaction (2002) (with Christiane Meierkord), and The Contexts of Social Action (2002) (with Varol Akman). Her research interests focus on the interdependence between natural language communication and context in mundane face-to-face interactions and in political discourse.

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.

Published Online: 2006-05-09

Published in Print: 2006-01-26

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: https://doi.org/10.1515/TEXT.2006.002.

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