Face-to-Face Verbal Interaction in Selected TV Political Talk Shows. A Socio-Pragmatic Account

Academic Paper, 2021

35 Pages

Prof. Dr. Ahmed Sahib Mubarak (Author)


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Language and Communication
2.1 Code Model
2.2 Inferential Model
2.3 The Notion of Context
2.4 The Notion of Interaction
2.4.1 Features of Interaction
2.4.2 TV Interviews
2.5 The Notion of Utterance
2.6 The Notion of Force
2.7 The Notion of Implicature
2.8 Face-Management and Politeness Strategies
2.8.1 Bald on Record
2.8.2 Positive Politeness
2.8.3 Negative Politeness
2.8.4 Off Record Politeness
2.9 Stylistic Variation

3. Research Methodology
3.1 Data Collection
3.2 Data Analysis and Discussion
3.2.1 Interview no. (1)

4. Results and Discussion

5. Conclusions

6. Bibliography


The present paper seeks to find out the correlation between the pragmatic meaning and the sociolinguistic meaning expressed in face-to-face verbal interaction. It discusses the problematic areas in relation to how the verbal behaviour conveys pragmatic and sociolinguistic meanings, and how they contribute to the overall communicative value of verbal face-to-face interaction. To do this, the study has selected some interviews taken from two TV talk shows; namely, BBC Politic Show and 20/20 talk show. The study identifies the interviews’ contexts of use employing utterance and force techniques. Then, it employs the two separate, but related, aspects of the interlocutors’ social identities and social ties and adopts Hymes’ model for the sake of identifying the contextual factors of the interaction and Brown and Levinson’s (1978) theory of politeness.

The results of this study show that ''Power Position'' often correlates with the use of ' on record' strategy and that of 'positive politeness' which signifies social equality and familiarity. Social distance and power are mainly conveyed by 'negative politeness' and the use of 'off record' politeness strategy. This, in turn, may imply a great imposition on the addressee or on the addresser's social identity, in which it does not allow him/her to perform the FTA in any other politeness strategy.

Keywords: Socio-Pragmatics; Face-to-Face Verbal Interaction; Political Talk Shows

1. Introduction

Language is a social phenomenon used to satisfy communicative needs. Since people use language in any social interaction as a means of communication, language, then, has a great social role in the lives of its users. Interlocutors in any social interaction exchange ideas, attitudes and feelings in terms of meaning which can be categorized into different levels and types according to the ideas or the attitudes it conveys.

Accordingly, the present study seeks to find out the correlation between the pragmatic meaning and the sociolinguistic meaning expressed in face-to-face verbal interaction. It discusses the problematic areas relative to how linguistic behaviour conveys pragmatic meaning and sociolinguistic meaning, and how they contribute to the overall communicative value of face-to-face verbal interaction. The study, therefore, tries to find answers to the following questions:

1. What are the borderlines that are used to determine the component of the socio-pragmatic meaning and the motivations for using some socially driven norms in the face-to-face verbal interaction?
2. Why are there differences in the interlocutors' linguistic behaviour which varies throughout face-to-face interaction in terms of the directness used and the stylistic variation employed?
3. How do interlocutors, in face-to-face verbal interaction, employ their identities to achieve communicative goals or to meet the requirements of social needs?

2. Language and Communication

The term ‘communication’ entails the production and reception of information (i.e., message) between addresser and addressee using a signaling system, (Crystal, 2003: 85). This definition emphasizes that there is a strong relation between the natural signaling system, i.e., natural language, and meaning, which is transmitted from the addresser to the addressee(s). Such a definition constitutes the major interest of communication since it is of a primary concern in the social sciences and humanities (Sanches and Campos, 2020: para. 3)

Akmajian et al. (2001: 363) provide another definition, for the term ‘communication’, emphasizing the social aspects of the process of communication. They assert that “communication is also a social affair which usually takes place within the context of fairly well defined social situation”. In such a context the interlocutors rely on one another to share each other’s conception of what the context is, (ibid). This means that the interlocutors need to share a view of social context to interpret each other’s utterances and need to realize each other’s roles and social identities.

Akmajian et al. (2001: 363) argue that verbal communication can be easily accomplished, but not so easily explained and described. Some theories are proposed to explain how successful verbal communication works. Below is a brief explanation of the most influential theories of verbal communication; i. e. the ‘code model’ and the ‘inferential model’.

2.1 Code Model

This model views language as a code, i.e., a system which pairs message with signals enabling interlocutors to communicate. This model views meaning as a message encoded by the addresser in terms of spoken or written symbols, sent along a channel of communication, and finally decoded by the receiver at the other extreme of the communication channel as illustrated in Figure (1) below.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure (1): Code model of communication (Adopted from Sperber & Wilson, 1986: 5)

Akmajian et al. (2001: 364) argue that this model predicts that communication is successful when the addressee decodes the same message which that addresser encodes. Conversely, it predicts that communication breaks down if the decoded message is different from the encoded message.

Spencer –Oatey and Zegarac (2002: 75) argue that pragmaticians question the validity of the code model of communication which was originally developed within the discipline of semiotics. They maintain that code model is totally inadequate to account for human communication. Modern approaches to pragmatic, recognize that human communication largely exploits a code (e.g., English), but human communication behavior relies heavily on inferential capacities which people use to recognize each other’s intentions.

What is important to be mentioned here is that Akmajian et al. (2001: 366-70) distinguish some shortcomings in the code model of communication arguing that it is based on the following completely mistaken assumptions:

1. Language is unambiguous.
2. What the addresser refers to is determined by the meaning of the referring expression uttered
3. Communicative intention is determined by the meaning of the sentence.
4. Speakers only speak literally, and
5. Speakers use words, phrases, sentences, only to communicate.

2.2 Inferential Model

This model of communication is based on Grice’s definition of meaning and it is adopted here due to its adequacy in explaining how a successful communication process is achieved, and for its ability to show the difference between semantic meaning and pragmatic meaning. Grice (1957: 384) states that when an addresser produces an utterance he/she tries to ensure some effect by means of the communicative intention behind that utterance. Akmajian et al. (2001: 370) maintain that according to this model, communication is successful if the addressee(s) recognize(s) the addresser’s communicative intention. Thus, interlocutors share a system of inferential strategies enabling them to recognize the intentions behind the utterance produced.

The basic idea of this model is that linguistic communication is a kind of cooperative problem-solving to bridge the gap between what is said and what is meant, (Leech, 1996: 17). Therefore, the inferential model needs to be connected to the code model of communication; the latter is used to decode the semantic meaning of the sentence, while the former is used to explain how the addressee arrives at the addresser’s intention. In this respect, code model can account for ‘semantic meaning’ whereas inferential model can explain ‘pragmatic meaning’.

Akmajian et al. (2001: 371) argue that the inferential model implicitly adopts some assumptions which help to account for how the interlocutors infer each other’s intention in any verbal interaction. These presumptions are:

1. Linguistic presumption: unless there is evidence to the contrary, the addressee is presumed to be capable of determining the senses and the references of the expressions used in the interaction.
2. Communicative presumption: unless there is evidence to the contrary, the addresser is assumed to be speaking with identifiable communicative intention.
3. Presumption of literalness: unless there is evidence to the contrary, the addresser is assumed to be speaking literally.
4. Conversational presumption: This includes all the four conversational maxims proposed by Grice (i.e., quantity, quality, manner, relevance).

2.3 The Notion of Context

The notion of ‘context’ is pertinent to any approach to language use. It represents the relationship between language and the outside world. There seems to be a general agreement among scholars that context could basically be classified into two types; ‘linguistic’ context (or co-text) and ‘context of situation’, (Mey, 1993: 38, Finch, 2000: 212, Crystal, 2003: 104). In the same vein, Cook (1995: 23) maintains that the term ‘context’ has narrow and broad senses. The narrow sense refers to the extralinguistic factors, i.e., context of situation. The broad sense refers to the extralinguistic factors as well as linguistic forms in a stretch of language, i.e., co-context.

Hence, the notion of ‘context’ is very important to understand what people mean when they use their language. Levinson (1996: 22-23) observes that the notion of context forms one of the difficulties facing the definition of pragmatics. In order to understand what is meant by ‘context’, one needs to distinguish between actual situations of utterances in all their multiplicity of features, and the selection of the features that are culturally and linguistically relevant to the production and interpretation of utterance.

Hymes (1974: 62-5) suggests an important classification of context recognizing eight components of context, using the word ‘SPEAKING’ as an acronym for his classification, as illustrated below:

1- Setting and scene (S): setting refers to the time and place of the context. Scene refers to the abstract psychological setting or the cultural definition of the occasion.
2- Participants (P): includes various combinations of addresser and addressee(s). They generally fill certain socially specified roles.
3- End (E): refers to the conventionally recognized and expected outcomes of the exchange or even personal goals.
4- Act sequence (A): refers to the actual form and content of what said.
5- Key (K): refers to the tone and manner or even aspect in which a participant’s message is conveyed, e.g., light-hearted, serious, mocking, etc.
6- Instrumentalities (I): refers to the choice of the channel whether spoken or written.
7- Norms of interpretation and interaction (N): includes the norms of the behavior on the part of the participants and interpretation on part of the addressee. These norms may vary according to the social group and community.
8- Genre (G): refers to the clearly demarcated type of the utterance, e.g., conversation, poem, proverb, etc. they are all marked in a specific way in contrast to casual speech.

2.4 The Notion of Interaction

Using language involves interlocutors, who make use of language to communicate pieces of information, ideas, attitudes, etc. Interaction is a process by which each interlocutor performs intentional action upon each other. When the intention of the addressee is perceived (i.e., represents a person's actual control over the behavior), this leads to a successful accomplishment of his/her action, known as The Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) (Kagee and Freeman, 2010: 85). The use of language is not an accomplishment of specific linguistic speech act, but rather an integral part of social interaction between interlocutors, (Van Dijk, 1989: 167).

Language has social function in addition to its communicative function. Shimoda (2017: 182) states that interaction involves lubrication of social wheels, and establishes roles and relationships with other interlocutors in the interaction. Thus, linguistic interaction certainly involves social aspects.

Hudson (1996: 108) defines social interaction as the aspect of behavior through which interlocutors influence each other, and react to each other, and speech is only one aspect of such behavior, which is closely related to other aspects. Crystal (2003: 238) asserts that the term ‘interaction’ refers to the study of speech in face-to-face communication and the social factors that shape the interaction.

The notion of ‘ interaction’ presupposes cooperation among the interlocutors, since it is initiated by two or more agents monitoring and building on the action of the others in socially defined situations. Therefore, any process of verbal interaction is necessarily a social interaction that is constructed by two or more interlocutors who are coordinating their actions with the others.

The study of verbal interaction is pertinent to most disciplines that deal with language. Van Dijk (1989: 185) argues that it is vital to the theory of action to explain the nature of communicative acts in terms of interaction. Language use, then, is viewed as a social interaction when studied in terms of face-to-face encounter. Levinson (1997: 284) asserts that it is no hard to see why one should investigate interaction for insight into pragmatic phenomena for interaction is clearly the prototypical kind of language use. Lyons (1979: 589) states that it is a very important fact that natural languages are primarily designed for face-to-face interaction, and there are limits to the extent to which they can be analyzed without taking this fact into consideration.

2.4.1 Features of Interaction

Face-to-face verbal interaction, like any other social interaction, has its own properties and structure that distinguish it from other types of language use (i.e., written language). Sangiacomo (2019: 242) maintains that interaction has its own properties and structure, which seem to be intrinsically non-linguistic in nature, although often expressed through linguistic medium. As this study is limited to the investigation of meaning in interaction, no further reference will made to the structure of the interaction and some other relevant notions such as adjacency pairs, preferred structure, etc.

Brown and Levinson (1978: 66) recognize two properties that any interlocutor should possess to ensure a successful verbal interaction. They argue that each interlocutor in the interaction has a social image that he/she claims for him/herself by means of the linguistic behavior. Brown and Levinson (ibid: 69) maintain that the other property which interlocutors possess is rationality. They (ibid) define rationality as the application of a specific mode of reasoning which guarantees inferences from ends or goals to means that will satisfy those ends.

The other property that is not referred to by Brown & Levinson, although explicitly identified by some scholars, including Verschueren (2002: 147) who argues that dynamics is a property of language use. This dynamic characteristic of interaction manifests itself by means of the ever-changing context of use through time, and changing in communicative roles and social identities of the interlocutors throughout the interaction. Thus, verbal interactions are characterized with being dynamics, and involve rational and face - possessing interlocutors.

2.4.2 TV Interviews

A TV Interview is a type of social interaction where the host (interviewer) produces utterances to perform certain speech acts that serve the main purpose of the interview. The simplest definition of ‘interview’ is that “it is a conversation with a deliberate purpose that the participants accept”, (Kadushin and Kadution, 2013: 6).

Leitner (2000: 188) points out that mass media scholars and macro-sociolinguists consider TV interview as social institutions or domains. Therefore, each interview has its own social system and power hierarchy where each participant has specific roles and responsibilities.

Since TV interviews are mainly prepared for audience, the active participants (i.e., the addresser & addressee(s)) should be aware of the social identity which they make salient in any moment of the interview (Peppler, 2017: 356) . Therefore, investing the social factors in such interactions is usually described as being intentional so as to ensure the intended perlocutionary effects of the active participants' utterances on each other, and on the passive participants as well (ibid).

2.5 The Notion of Utterance

The notion of 'utterance' is difficult for Linguists to define, because no agreed upon criteria have been proposed yet to determine its border; the proposed definitions apply equally to a one-word response and a sermon, (Crystal, 2003:485). Yet, some scholars propose definitions for the term. Levinson (1997: 18) argues that the distinction between 'sentence' and 'utterance' is of fundamental importance in pragmatics. He states that a 'sentence' is an abstract entity, defined within the theory of grammar, while an 'utterance' is the issuance of a sentence, a sentence analogue, or sentence fragment in an actual context. Kearns (2000: 11) emphasizes the distinction, arguing that semantics deals with the literal meaning of words and how they are combined to constitute a sentence, whereas pragmatics deals with all the ways in which literal meaning must be refined, enriched or extended to arrive at the utterance meaning.

Levinson (1997: 18-19) states that it is customary to think of an utterance as the pairing of a 'sentence' and context. Schiffrin (2006: 194) defines 'utterance' as a contextualized sentence. A sentence is a string of words put together according to the grammatical rules of a language; an utterance is the realization of a sentence in a textual and social context (ibid). Therefore, 'utterance' is related to the actual use of language in a real situation and context of use.

'Utterance meaning' involves the direct and the literal realization of the 'sentence meaning' in the context of use. Thomas (1995: 22) argues that the utterance meaning represents meaning from the point of view of the addressee, because utterance meaning involves a cognitive process, on the part of the addressees to understand the implicatures which fill the gap between the abstract level of meaning and the communicative intention of the addresser (i.e. force).

2.6 The Notion of Force

The other aspect of pragmatic meaning along with the utterance meaning is the 'force' of that utterance. Meaning can be assigned to any action, whether verbal or nonverbal, thus each action has intended meaning behind it. Yet, speech acts have forces that refer to the intended meaning of the addresser. In pragmatics the term 'force' is used to refer to the communicative intention of the addresser upon producing a specific utterance (Thomas, 1995: 18). In actual interactions, the addressee's main concern is to interpret the addresser's intended meaning or more specifically to understand what the addresser wants from him/her.

The theory which covers this level of interpretation is that of 'speech act'. Speech act theory was first introduced in the 1950s by Austin and was further developed by others, particularly by Searle. This theory envisages language as a set of activities performed by the interlocutors in concrete situations (Collective of authors, 2015: 119). The basic premise of the theory is that whenever a language user produces an utterance in a verbal interaction s/he acts on several levels simultaneously. The first level is called 'locutionary act', the second is 'illocutionary act' and the third is 'perlocutionary act'.

Levinson (1997: 236) asserts that 'locutionary act' is the production of an utterance in context; 'illocutionary act' is the production of a statement, offer, promise, etc., in uttering a sentence in a context, by virtue of the conventional force associated with it; 'perlocutionary act' is the bringing about of effects on the audience by means of uttering the sentence in context.

The most important act for the study of pragmatic meaning is 'the illocutionary act', since it is conventionally associated with the force of the utterance (i.e. the intention of the addresser). Leech (1996: 30) points out that the main concern of general pragmatics is to link the sense of an utterance to its pragmatic force, this relation may be direct or indirect. The description of the illocutionary acts is equivalent to the intentional description of the non-verbal acts. Hence, illocutionary force is related to the intention of the user (Nannicelli, 2020: 199). The importance of the notion of 'speech act' in general, and force in particular comes from the fact that interlocutors perform actions through languages and these actions are often related indirectly and conventionally to what they utter.

2.7 The Notion of Implicature

It must be noted that the notion of 'force' should be distinguished from the notion of 'implicature'. 'Force' and 'implicature' do not represent the same pragmatic phenomenon explained in two different ways, as Vershueren (2000: 42) argues, but rather represent two different pragmatic phenomena. Implicature refers to the meaning which is not expressed explicitly in the utterance and need not to be intentional, e.g., conventional implicature, whereas 'force' is the communicative intention of the addresser (ibid). Such a difference is related to the notions of communicative and informative signals proposed by Lyons (1979: 33-34), where the former refers to the meaning conveyed with specified intention, and the latter is related to the meaning conveyed regardless of the intention of the addresser.

The theory of implicature is part of the theory of communication, involving the practice of social relationships where signs and codes are transmitted in a form of message between interlocutors (LeBaron, Mandelbaum and Glenn , 2003: 17). It explains how interlocutors can communicate and understand each other, in spite of the implicit expressions and the implicated propositions used through a speech situation (ibid).

Kuzio (2014: 63) mentions that there are two main types of implicatures namely 'conventional' and 'conversational'. 'Conventional implicature' is the traditional, sentence determined, more semantic-like meaning of the linguistic expression; a set of discourse deixis. Conventional implicature is mainly concerned with the enriched version of word meaning, it is associated with specific words and result in additional conveyed meanings when those words are used (Yule, 2000: 46).

Thomas (1995: 57) argues that conventional implicature always expresses what is conveyed, regardless of context. Verschueren (2002: 30) relates the notion of conventional implicature to semantic theory, arguing that conventional implicature is nothing more than entailment. However, the debate over the status of conventional implicature has not reached an end, yet Levinson (1997: 127) asserts that:

Conventional implicatures are non-truth-conditional inferences that are not derived from superordinate pragmatic principles like the maxims, but are simply attached by convention to particular lexical item or expressions.

2.8 Face-Management and Politeness Strategies

Brown & Levinson (1978) produce their own theory of politeness, which is based on a field research on three languages: English, Tamil and Tzeltd. Brown & Levinson adopt the notion of face as a corner stone to their theory of politeness. The notion of ‘face’ is a sociological term proposed by Goffman (1955) in his theory of interpersonal communication. Gao et al. (2020: 77) define face as “the positive social value a person effectively claims for himself by the line others assume he has taken during a particular contact”, where 'line' refers to the type of norm or pattern of behavior.

Brown & Levinson (1978: 66) argue that “face is something that is emotionally invested, and that can be lost, maintained, or enhanced and must be constantly attended to interaction”. They maintain that everyone’s face depends on everyone else’s face being maintained, (i.e., interlocutors cooperate to maintain each other’s face). In accordance with Goffman’s notion of ‘face’, Brown & Levinson’s (1978: 66) ‘face’ consists of two related aspects:

a) Negative face: the basic claim to territories, personal preserves, rights to non -distraction- i.e., to freedom of action and freedom from imposition.
b) Positive face: the positive consistent self-image or personality (crucially including the desire that this self-image be appreciated and approved of) claimed by interlocutors.

Heading towards the term "face wants", Yule (2000: 61) asserts that within their everyday social interaction, people generally behave as if their expectations concerning their public self-image, or their face wants will be respected. He (ibid) adds that if an interlocutor says something that represents a threat to another individual’s expectations regarding self-image, it is described as a "face threatening act" (FTA henceforth). Alternatively, given the possibility that some action might be interpreted as a threat to another’s face, the interlocutor can say something to lessen the possible threat. This is called a ‘face saving act’ (FSA henceforth) (ibid). The following diagram illustrates the possible strategies of FTA.


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Face-to-Face Verbal Interaction in Selected TV Political Talk Shows. A Socio-Pragmatic Account
University of Babylon  (College of Education for Human Sciences)
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Sociolinguistics, sociopragmatics, pragmatics
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Prof. Dr. Ahmed Sahib Mubarak (Author)Asst. Lec. Abdul-Haq Abdul-Kareem Abdullah Al-Sahlani (Author), 2021, Face-to-Face Verbal Interaction in Selected TV Political Talk Shows. A Socio-Pragmatic Account, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1142328


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