AUTHOR: Blas Arroyo, José Luis
TITLE: Políticos en conflicto: una aproximación pragmáticodiscursiva al debate
electoral cara a cara
SERIES TITLE: Fondo hispánico de lingüística y filología. Vol.7
PUBLISHER: Peter Lang
Clara Burgo, Modern Languages Department, DePaul University
This book is addressed to linguists interested in political discourse. It
attempts to fill a gap in the field of conversation analysis, specifically,
interactional aspects of face to face Spanish political debates. The author
tries to answer the following questions: What interactional principles inspire
this genre of political discourse that might have important implications in the
public life of a nation?; What are the discursive strategies and the formal and
rhetorical resources usually used by the main participants in political
debates?; What factors constrain variation?. There are six face to face debates
analyzed in this book in order to answer the aforementioned questions. All
relevant debates took place in Spain between 1993 and 2009.
Chapter 1 is an introduction that presents the research questions above. The
author explains the importance for and the reasons why he decided that this book
was necessary for the political discourse field, such as the lack of knowledge
about the discursive and interactional aspects of these challenges.
Chapter 2 defines ‘political language’ as a manifestation of public discourse
where speakers act as social agents. Researchers such as Fernández Lagunilla
(1999) believe that a political language, per se, does not exist. What is
studied here is the usage of language by politicians to perform their functions.
Political discourse is characterized by its controversial nature and its
ambiguity. The political debate is a two-way interactive method that includes
the defense of one’s own points and an attack against opponents. In order to do
this, there are strategies of argumentation and persuasion that politicians use
to convince their audience of their credibility. In this process, the art of
rhetoric is crucial. From a discursive point of view, persuasion is also
achieved through questions, interruptions, etc. Debates have a clear structure
addressing a complex audience who will assess victory or defeat of the
Chapter 3 examines perspectives on the analysis of presidential debates. The
media has a strong influence on them. In fact, television devalues electoral
discourses with an emphasis on the candidates’ image. As Jarman (2005) claims,
the audience tends to pay more attention to how candidates express themselves
rather what they actually say. The chapter presents the format of debates and
provides examples from the United States and Spain (p.75; p. 79; p. 85).
Chapter 4 focuses on the corpus of face to face Spanish debates, which include
debates from the electoral campaigns in 1993 and 2008 of the two Spanish
candidates for Prime Minister, as well as another in 2009 from the elections for
the European Parliament. Some of these debates follow the following structure:
Introduction turn/ Social or Institutional Politics/ Final turn (pp. 100-101).
Chapter 5 focuses on the participants, which include the debaters, the
moderator, and the audience. The argumentation techniques in this genre have the
purpose of persuading the widest possible audience. The audience is the decisive
element in these debates since it is the targeted addressee. Politicians
manipulate their personal deixis; that is, their use of pronouns, in order to
accept or reject responsibility for some actions, to establish alliances, or to
show solidarity. There are generally two debaters involved, as well as a
moderator, but this latter figure could disappear. The moderator’s role (when
present) should advocate for impartiality and make sure that all arguments are
respected. He/she has the role of initiating the debate or any of its parts and
later may reappear if communication is blocked by conflict.
Chapter 6 focuses on attacks as the manifestation of face to face institutional
impoliteness. The degree of aggressiveness can be measured by the kind of
confrontation (face to face debates vs. multiple member debates). Sometimes,
speakers deliberately look for confrontation and this chapter provides some
confrontational strategies that are typically used in electoral debates:
associating the opponent with bad deeds; accusing him/her of lying; being
condescending toward him/her; formulating disadvantaged contrasts for the
adversary; and reducing the credibility of the adversary by accusing him/her of
contradicting him/herself. Irony and sarcasm are two of the most common
resources that are employed to negatively affect the adversary’s face by
violating the coherence principle. A typical way of doing this is by showing
affinity with the adversary.
Chapter 7 discusses politically correct language in terms of its functions of
persuasion and politeness toward the audience, with the goal of gaining its
approval. Instead of protecting the adversary’s face, the use of politically
correct language is called attenuated aggression. There are also some resources
of pragmatic attenuation that have the function of mitigating acts against the
negative face of the interlocutor. The interlocutor also has to develop some
strategies to create distance from the attack by the adversary, such as silence,
and impersonalization of the first person singular (examples on pp. 272-273).
Chapter 8 explains how persuasion and rhetoric are used in electoral debates.
Another common strategy at the end of debates is telling personal stories, where
diverse images are blended. These stories refer to both the past and the
present, but above all, to the future. In the rhetoric tradition, figurative
language works by credibility logic, not the logic of the truth. These figures
could affect the content or the form. Effects on the former are called ‘figures
of thought’ (i.e. metaphors) and effects on the latter are ‘figures of diction’
Chapter 9 describes the conversational aspects of face to face debates.
Questions and interruptions in electoral debates are analyzed according to their
function. Questions can be used as a form of control, or can play an
argumentative role. For questions, there are certain institutional factors (e.g.
political roles, identities and expectations of the candidates) that influence
their distribution. Regarding interruptions, there are different patterns of
behavior between women and men, with men generally being more intrusive.
Chapter 10 ends this book with the presentation of conclusions. Debates are a
fundamental piece of political campaigns, especially in recent years, and this
book attempts to describe their structure and participants, and to provide
analyses of some examples from the most recent Spanish electoral debates.
This book offers a very detailed exposition of the nature of political debates,
their characteristics, and the classification of the genre. It focuses on
Spanish political debates in recent years. The author successfully manages to
efficiently explain this complicated genre and the debates’ role in influencing
the masses' votes during election times through the media.
In terms of structure, the book has a great starting point by trying to define
or determine whether an actual political language exists and by describing this
genre. Then, it focuses on the characterization of debates and talk shows by
providing examples from American debates. In addition, there is a discussion of
several perspectives of analysis in the study of presidential debates and the
effect of them on the results of political elections.
Chapters 4 and 5 present the corpus that is being analyzed. This book is crucial
for the study of political language in Spain. However, it would have been
interesting to see a comparison of these debates with those in other countries
that were mentioned as an introduction to this corpus. There is a very detailed
description of format, negotiations, moderators and audience’s roles. However,
this information might seem a little bit too dense and more examples for each
structure would make it more vivid.
Chapter 5 focuses on participants and a linguistic analysis of strategies, such
as personal deixis. In this chapter, there are multiple examples of every
strategy mentioned, which greatly facilitates the reader’s understanding of the
Chapters 6, 7 and 8 are couched in a Discourse Analysis perspective. These
chapters could be of interest for researchers curious about the discursive
manifestations of institutional impoliteness in face to face debates and
persuasion and politeness in politically correct language.
Chapter 9 refers to the conversational aspects of face to face debates, such as
the analysis of questions and interruptions and their role in this genre. In
these analyses, tables are provided with the distribution of questions and their
respective percentages. There is a qualitative and quantitative description of
these resources, which makes the presentation very convincing. This successful
attempt to address political language from discursive and conversational
analyses perspectives is crucial when discussing political debates. There are
some linguistic aspects that are scrutinized, such as the use of pronouns by
candidates in order to identify or distance themselves from an attitude or
opinion. There are also other pragmatic resources, such as the use of
politically correct language, the use of irony, textual polyphony, metaphor or
repetition to defeat the adversary and gain credibility with the audience by
affecting the negative face of the opponent. The author is successful in
including these linguistic and pragmatic resources in his discussion through
examples and descriptions of them and how they are used in order for
participants to benefit themselves or to attack the adversary.
In the conclusions, the author emphasizes the importance of a book like this
because of the evident interest of debates in the media. In fact, nowadays,
political debates are essential in political campaigns in many countries, such
as the U.S.A. or Spain.
One of the main strengths of this book is the audience it is intended for. The
description and the structure facilitates the work of the reader and make this
book a great guide for understanding the power of media and language in
convincing audiences to vote for one candidate or another. It is undeniable that
the media has tremendous influential power, especially television, and the
author fills a previous need for a book that describes this genre since there
are not similar books that describe the structure of Spanish political debates.
Overall, it is a crucial step to better understanding this genre.
Fernández Lagunilla, M. (1999): La lengua en la comunicación política, vol. I
(El discurso del poder) y II (la palabra del poder). Arco Libros, Madrid.
Jarman, J. W. (2005): “Political affiliation and presidential debates: A
real-time analysis of the effect of the arguments used in the presidential
debates”, American Behavioral Scientist 49, 229-242.
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