LINGUIST List 23.2314

Mon May 14 2012

Review: Discourse Analysis; Pragmatics; Sociolinguistics: Blas Arroyo (2011)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 14-May-2012
From: Clara Burgo <>
Subject: Políticos en conflicto: una aproximación pragmáticodiscursiva al debate electoral cara a cara
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AUTHOR: Blas Arroyo, José LuisTITLE: Políticos en conflicto: una aproximación pragmáticodiscursiva al debateelectoral cara a caraSERIES TITLE: Fondo hispánico de lingüística y filología. Vol.7PUBLISHER: Peter LangYEAR: 2011

Clara Burgo, Modern Languages Department, DePaul University


This book is addressed to linguists interested in political discourse. Itattempts to fill a gap in the field of conversation analysis, specifically,interactional aspects of face to face Spanish political debates. The authortries to answer the following questions: What interactional principles inspirethis genre of political discourse that might have important implications in thepublic life of a nation?; What are the discursive strategies and the formal andrhetorical resources usually used by the main participants in politicaldebates?; What factors constrain variation?. There are six face to face debatesanalyzed in this book in order to answer the aforementioned questions. Allrelevant debates took place in Spain between 1993 and 2009.

Chapter 1 is an introduction that presents the research questions above. Theauthor explains the importance for and the reasons why he decided that this bookwas necessary for the political discourse field, such as the lack of knowledgeabout the discursive and interactional aspects of these challenges.

Chapter 2 defines ‘political language’ as a manifestation of public discoursewhere speakers act as social agents. Researchers such as Fernández Lagunilla(1999) believe that a political language, per se, does not exist. What isstudied here is the usage of language by politicians to perform their functions.Political discourse is characterized by its controversial nature and itsambiguity. The political debate is a two-way interactive method that includesthe defense of one’s own points and an attack against opponents. In order to dothis, there are strategies of argumentation and persuasion that politicians useto convince their audience of their credibility. In this process, the art ofrhetoric is crucial. From a discursive point of view, persuasion is alsoachieved through questions, interruptions, etc. Debates have a clear structureaddressing a complex audience who will assess victory or defeat of theparticipants.

Chapter 3 examines perspectives on the analysis of presidential debates. Themedia has a strong influence on them. In fact, television devalues electoraldiscourses with an emphasis on the candidates’ image. As Jarman (2005) claims,the audience tends to pay more attention to how candidates express themselvesrather what they actually say. The chapter presents the format of debates andprovides 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 includedebates from the electoral campaigns in 1993 and 2008 of the two Spanishcandidates for Prime Minister, as well as another in 2009 from the elections forthe 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, themoderator, and the audience. The argumentation techniques in this genre have thepurpose of persuading the widest possible audience. The audience is the decisiveelement in these debates since it is the targeted addressee. Politiciansmanipulate their personal deixis; that is, their use of pronouns, in order toaccept or reject responsibility for some actions, to establish alliances, or toshow solidarity. There are generally two debaters involved, as well as amoderator, but this latter figure could disappear. The moderator’s role (whenpresent) should advocate for impartiality and make sure that all arguments arerespected. He/she has the role of initiating the debate or any of its parts andlater may reappear if communication is blocked by conflict.

Chapter 6 focuses on attacks as the manifestation of face to face institutionalimpoliteness. The degree of aggressiveness can be measured by the kind ofconfrontation (face to face debates vs. multiple member debates). Sometimes,speakers deliberately look for confrontation and this chapter provides someconfrontational strategies that are typically used in electoral debates:associating the opponent with bad deeds; accusing him/her of lying; beingcondescending toward him/her; formulating disadvantaged contrasts for theadversary; and reducing the credibility of the adversary by accusing him/her ofcontradicting him/herself. Irony and sarcasm are two of the most commonresources that are employed to negatively affect the adversary’s face byviolating the coherence principle. A typical way of doing this is by showingaffinity with the adversary.

Chapter 7 discusses politically correct language in terms of its functions ofpersuasion and politeness toward the audience, with the goal of gaining itsapproval. Instead of protecting the adversary’s face, the use of politicallycorrect language is called attenuated aggression. There are also some resourcesof pragmatic attenuation that have the function of mitigating acts against thenegative face of the interlocutor. The interlocutor also has to develop somestrategies 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, wherediverse images are blended. These stories refer to both the past and thepresent, but above all, to the future. In the rhetoric tradition, figurativelanguage works by credibility logic, not the logic of the truth. These figurescould affect the content or the form. Effects on the former are called ‘figuresof thought’ (i.e. metaphors) and effects on the latter are ‘figures of diction’(i.e. repetition).

Chapter 9 describes the conversational aspects of face to face debates.Questions and interruptions in electoral debates are analyzed according to theirfunction. Questions can be used as a form of control, or can play anargumentative role. For questions, there are certain institutional factors (e.g.political roles, identities and expectations of the candidates) that influencetheir distribution. Regarding interruptions, there are different patterns ofbehavior between women and men, with men generally being more intrusive.

Chapter 10 ends this book with the presentation of conclusions. Debates are afundamental piece of political campaigns, especially in recent years, and thisbook attempts to describe their structure and participants, and to provideanalyses 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 onSpanish political debates in recent years. The author successfully manages toefficiently explain this complicated genre and the debates’ role in influencingthe masses' votes during election times through the media.

In terms of structure, the book has a great starting point by trying to defineor determine whether an actual political language exists and by describing thisgenre. Then, it focuses on the characterization of debates and talk shows byproviding examples from American debates. In addition, there is a discussion ofseveral perspectives of analysis in the study of presidential debates and theeffect of them on the results of political elections.

Chapters 4 and 5 present the corpus that is being analyzed. This book is crucialfor the study of political language in Spain. However, it would have beeninteresting to see a comparison of these debates with those in other countriesthat were mentioned as an introduction to this corpus. There is a very detaileddescription of format, negotiations, moderators and audience’s roles. However,this information might seem a little bit too dense and more examples for eachstructure would make it more vivid.

Chapter 5 focuses on participants and a linguistic analysis of strategies, suchas personal deixis. In this chapter, there are multiple examples of everystrategy mentioned, which greatly facilitates the reader’s understanding of thematerial.

Chapters 6, 7 and 8 are couched in a Discourse Analysis perspective. Thesechapters could be of interest for researchers curious about the discursivemanifestations of institutional impoliteness in face to face debates andpersuasion and politeness in politically correct language.

Chapter 9 refers to the conversational aspects of face to face debates, such asthe analysis of questions and interruptions and their role in this genre. Inthese analyses, tables are provided with the distribution of questions and theirrespective percentages. There is a qualitative and quantitative description ofthese resources, which makes the presentation very convincing. This successfulattempt to address political language from discursive and conversationalanalyses perspectives is crucial when discussing political debates. There aresome linguistic aspects that are scrutinized, such as the use of pronouns bycandidates in order to identify or distance themselves from an attitude oropinion. There are also other pragmatic resources, such as the use ofpolitically correct language, the use of irony, textual polyphony, metaphor orrepetition to defeat the adversary and gain credibility with the audience byaffecting the negative face of the opponent. The author is successful inincluding these linguistic and pragmatic resources in his discussion throughexamples and descriptions of them and how they are used in order forparticipants to benefit themselves or to attack the adversary.

In the conclusions, the author emphasizes the importance of a book like thisbecause of the evident interest of debates in the media. In fact, nowadays,political debates are essential in political campaigns in many countries, suchas the U.S.A. or Spain.

One of the main strengths of this book is the audience it is intended for. Thedescription and the structure facilitates the work of the reader and make thisbook a great guide for understanding the power of media and language inconvincing audiences to vote for one candidate or another. It is undeniable thatthe media has tremendous influential power, especially television, and theauthor fills a previous need for a book that describes this genre since thereare 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: Areal-time analysis of the effect of the arguments used in the presidentialdebates”, American Behavioral Scientist 49, 229-242.


Clara Burgo is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Modern Languages Department at DePaul University. She teaches all levels of Spanish and Spanish linguistics. Her currents interests are sociolinguistics and bilingualism.

Page Updated: 14-May-2012