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Interpersonal relationships in the televised electoral debate

Boicu, Ruxandra (2010): Interpersonal relationships in the televised electoral debate.

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The present study is devoted to the analysis of the interpersonal relationships induced by the adversarial verbal exchanges that characterize a televised electoral debate. The studied electoral debate opposed the presidential candidates Ségolène Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy. It was broadcast in France, in May 2007. In keeping with the French tradition, the format allotted a generous space to the face-to-face interaction between Royal and Sarkozy. Each candidate had the opportunity to direct aggressive questions to the interlocutor. This is the reason for which this media event has been selected for this research. At the same time, the important number of interrogative utterances launched in the debate by all the participants present in the studio justifies the careful scrutiny of questioning in adversarial environments. A consistent section of the chapter presents the main concepts derived from the theories that articulate the foundation of the proposed empirical investigation. Thus, the configuration of the adversarial context is essential to the analysis of the televised electoral debate. The broadcasting of the electoral debate is interpreted as cause and explanation of the increased tension between the politicians engaged in a zero-sum game. The adversarial context is the frame within which the candidates choose the target of their verbal attacks, namely, the public image of the political adversary. The image of self is both exposed and vulnerable as it represents the main concern for all the participants in the broadcast. Relying on statistics, specialized literature demonstrates that presidential candidates are mainly appreciated for their efficacy in the battle on image, rather than for their argumentative competence. In order to explain image attacks the researcher needs the interpretive apparatus and the analytic instruments offered by the theories of impoliteness. That clarifies the interest for their evolution from the Goffmanian concept of “face” to the premises of the recent theories of im/politeness and relational work. The classic theory of linguistic politeness created by Brown and Levinson (1967) is duly described as inspirational for impoliteness analysts such as Culpeper, Bousfield or Kienpointner. The core of the research is the study of questions. That is why the chapter contains descriptions of several formal classifications, according to different principles. Likewise, the questioning speech act is explained as initiative turn in face-to-face interaction, forcing the interlocutor to provide an answer. Other theoretical considerations consist in comparative approaches of formal types of questions, without neglecting the functions specific to them. The aim of their inclusion in the chapter is to emphasize the features that questions receive in various environments. Analysts agree that, in established adversarialness, they become a means of imposing power (Wang 2006), a disaffiliative activity (Steensig and Drew, 2008) or even a challenge (Koshik 2003). This is one of the main ideas that underlie this empirical research. The objective of the research is to order the questions in the data base according to their potential as impolite speech acts. They are analysed as manifestations of off-record impoliteness (Bousfield 2008). There is a double research hypothesis: as the questions are subject to three criteria of classification, the most numerous class members according to each criterion will coincide with the most impolite types of questions. At the intersection of the results of the three measurements, there must be the prototype of the most impolite question in the corpus.

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