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Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar), 2013
18 Seiten, Note: 1,3
2. The interview
2.1 The political interview
2.2 What an interviewer intends
3.1 A definition
3.2 Types of question
3.2.1 Yes-no questions
3.2.3 Alternative questions
3.2.4 Other types
4. Analysis: Functions of questions in two exemplary interviews
One of the more neglected fields in linguistics is the field of questions and their func- tions, although questions play an important role not only in casual conversation but in political discourse in particular. Therefore this paper will deal with one specific type of political discourse, namely political interviews (van Dijk 1995: 18). When it comes to political interviews, which have become more and more influential for political debate in the last few decades (Chilton 2004: 69), questions by the interviewer are the central elements leading and guiding the discourse. Thus the aim of this paper is to examine the questions and their functions in political interviews. Considering that firstly a brief look at what makes an interview a political one will be required and secondly there will be a section on what an interviewer intends. Examining the functions of questions is another way of asking why or with what intention a question is used. Thus knowing about an interviewers general intention in a political interview will later in the analysis help to understand what the use of questions is and why they are posed in the one way or the other. Thirdly it has to be clarified what a question is and what types of ques- tions there are.
These preliminary explanations will be followed by the main analysis on the ba- sis of the transcriptions of two political interviews, one conducted by Andrew Marr in the Andrew Marr Show broadcast on BBC One on 21st July 2013 and the other conduc- ted by Sir David Frost in the Show Frost over the World broadcast on AlJazeera on 10th September 2011. This analysis will focus on questions and attempt to provide ans- wers to the following questions: What types of questions do the interviewers employ and how do they use them in order to succeed in their intentions? I.e. what are the particular functions of the interviewers’ questions to the interviewee (who in both interviews is the British Prime Minister David Cameron)? This second question is based on the assumption that there is (especially in political discourse) always one basic function of questions which then (according to the type and content of the question) further subdivides into more specific and individual functions. Exemplary analyses of question forms typical for the two interviews will illustrate how the particular functions are fulfilled.
To begin with one should start by defining what an interview is. An interview can be defined as “an asymmetrical discourse which privileges the interviewer and gives him the right to ask questions” (cf. Macaulay 1996: 492). According to this quite broad de- finition an interview is a type of conversation between two or more people. That dis- course is asymmetrical because of the particular relationship between the interviewer and the interviewee, by which every interview is marked. The interviewer takes the leading role asking questions to the interviewee, whose role is to respond to the inter- viewer. Consequently the main defining feature is that interviews follow the clear structure of a “question-and-answer format” (Chilton 2004: 74; Bull 1994: 116). So these are the main characteristics common to every type of interview. Characteristics typical for political interviews will be discussed in the following.
Two main types of interviews can be distinguished: On the one hand there is the highly standardised interview used for qualitative research mainly in academic contexts. On the other hand there is the interview mainly conducted by journalists and published in media like in newspapers, on the radio or on television.
A political interview, which this paper puts its focus on, is a specific type of media interview. It is said to be “one of the most important ways in which the political debate is conducted” (Hannan 1986). It is by definition an interview in which the people interviewed are “members of the political elite - i.e. political decisionmakers who hold, or actively seek to hold widely publicised public offices” (Blum-Kulka 1983: 133). Meeting the minimal definition of an interview by Macaulay (see above; Macaulay 1996: 492) Blum-Kulka further describes political interviews as “highly structured speech events” with at least two main characteristics. The first characteristic refers to the asymmetrical character of the relation between the interviewer and the interviewee stressing that only the interviewer is in the position to ask questions. As a rule one could say that rhetorical questions are the only questions posed by politicians (Blum-Kulka 1983: 133). That clear division of labour between the interviewer and the interviewee that both Macaulay and Blum-Kulka recognise as a main feature is also re-vealed in the data analysed below. The second main feature that Blum-Kulka mentions goes beyond Macaulay’s definition. It emphasizes the existence of ”a well-established set of implicit norms which govern the verbal behavior of interactants in relating to each other during the interview” (ibid.; Clayman 2010). One example for this set of norms can be found in the way how the interactants address each other particularly in the beginning and at the end of the interview. The interviewer usually addresses the politician in a very respectful way by his or her title or family name whereas the politicians typically do not address the interviewers at all (ibid.). That rule also applies to the two interviews analysed in this paper. The interviewers Andrew Marr and David Frost address the politician deferentially by his title Prime Minister, while the latter does not address the interviewers at all.
Moreover Blum-Kulka compares political interviews to a lesson in a classroom pointing out that “[i]n both cases, the flow of discourse is highly structured and takes place within predetermined time limits”. Another similarity is that in both cases there is someone officially in charge. That means it is only the interviewer who chooses the issues that will be talked about and it is him who decides when to shift the topic (ibid., 134). However, in contrast to a lesson in a classroom a political interview always aims at an audience. Thus every political interview is a public affair (ibid.; Heritage 1985).
In a paper that tries to examine questions and their functions it is the interviewer who is in the centre of the attention. Thus it is worth outlining what the interviewer’s overall intentions are. Only then it is possible to explain what the functions of questions in po- litical interviews are and how the interviewer uses them to meet his intentions.
Speaking in general terms a media interview is first and foremost a “journalistic tool [...] for gathering information” (Clayman and Heritage 2002: 1). That information can be of various kinds. In the political context information could be for instance real factual information, the evaluation of a problem or the politician’s personal opinion to it, apologies, the admission of mistakes or even the announcement of retirement from office. Besides this general intention there is also the intention of “making politicians accountable” (Chilton 2004: 69). This is what Chilton makes clear when stating that the media interview and with that also the political interview “has come to rival the parliamentary institutions for making politicians accountable” (ibid.) As well as parlia-mentary institutions political interviews intend to discuss political issues in a way that make politicians say something that takes debate forward.
Andrew Marr, a BBC interviewer, takes the same position arguing that the in- terviewer’s job is to “to help shed light” (Marr 2010). He sees the political interview as a “public service” to the audience, which does not necessarily have to be a news story. More important than having any news value is, according to Marr, that the interview takes the debate forward by making the politicians lay out their opinions more precisely than they have before (ibid.). Moreover, especially in the election process, it is the interviewer’s job to “elicit clear profiles of the candidates” (Seton 2006: 53).
Following the “question-and-answer format” (Chilton 2004: 74) that structures an in- terview, it is obvious that interviewers are “for the most part restricted to asking ques- tions” (Clayman 2010). And as questions represent a polite way of requesting informa- tion (Quirk et al. 1985: 1477), which is the principle speech act used by interviewers (Macaulay 1996: 491), asking questions hence is indeed the interviewer’s main technique in order to meet the intentions mentioned above. Questioning is also a “cen- tral resource” through which the interviewer is able to maintain the “neutralistic posi- tion” every interviewer is supposed to have (Heritage/Greatbatch 1991). Thus the ex- planations about the political interview must be followed by a definition of questions.
So what are questions? This is a question to which the answer is not self-evident, be- cause a question can take various forms (Hayano 2013: 396). In addition, the syntactic form (the interrogative) of a question, which is marked by inverted word order, does not always correspond with the pragmatic function or purpose of the speech act of questioning (Bull 1994: 117f). In other words not every utterance that is a question is realised in the form of an interrogative and also not every interrogative “performs the communicative function of questioning” (Ehrlich/Freed 2010: 4f).
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