A Socio-Cognitive Approach To Political Interaction: An Analysis of Candidates Discourses in U.S. Political Campaign Debates

  1. García Pastor, María Dolores
Supervised by:
  1. Patricia Bou Franch Director

Defence university: Universitat de València

Fecha de defensa: 28 November 2006

  1. José Luis Blas Arroyo Chair
  2. Carmen Gregori Signes Secretary
  3. Reyes Gómez Morón Committee member
  4. Pilar Garcés Conejos Committee member
  5. Nuria Lorenzo-Dus Committee member

Type: Thesis

Teseo: 136906 DIALNET


The present research focuses on politeness in candidates discourses in U.S. political campaign debates of the 2000 elections from a socio-cognitive approach to social interaction. This approach entails an eclectic perspective on communication that intends to account for its cognitive, linguistic, relational and socio-cultural aspects in a determinate communicative encounter. This eclectic perspective is based on Brown and Levinsons (1987) Politeness Theory on the one hand, and Sperber and Wilsons Relevance Theory (1986/1995) on the other hand, with the latter constituting a cognitive complement to the former on theoretical grounds. From this eclectic approach, politeness has been conceived as the context-sensitive cognitive-based linguistic instantiation of social bonds. Therefore, politeness constitutes the linguistic enactment of social relationships in a specific communicative situation, and the internal knowledge on what is appropriate or inappropriate therein underlying such enactment. Politeness may thus consist of a) mitigating behaviour, whereby the speaker (S) attends to his/her own and/or the hearers (H) face or social image one wants for him/herself in a specific society (Brown & Levinson, 1987), or b) aggravating behaviour, that is, damage of ones own and/or Hs face. In view of this, the following research questions were posited in this study: 1) what are the main features of politicians face mitigating and aggravating sequences in terms of: type of politeness prevailing in these (if any), recurrent linguistic elements (if any), and typical location of these sequences in the whole discourse debates themselves constitute (if any)?; 2) what are the specific forms face mitigating and aggravating sequences adopt (if any), and which are their features?. In order to provide an answer to these questions, a total of 89 North-American electoral debates were collected together with other secondary data (e.g. newspaper articles, television programmes, etc.). These debates were organised into Corpus of Analysis (Corpus A) and Corpus of Reference (Corpus B), out of which the former consists of 16 debates corresponding to a total of 20 hours of on-going talk, and the latter contains the rest of the debates collected. Corpus A was transcribed in its entirety and analysed according to the units of analysis of the pragmatic sequence and the micro strategy. Overall, face mitigation, which is commonly directed towards the audience, appeared to be the predominant shape of politeness in candidates discourses in debates, more specifically, mitigation of the non-pure type oriented towards Hs positive face or his/her desire to be approved of (ibid.). This positive face attention characteristic of mitigating sequences in these events was found to be principally based on the strategies presuppose/raise/assert common ground, assert/presuppose Ss knowledge of and concern for Hs needs and wants, and offer and promise. These results back one of the main claims of this study, namely, that political campaign debates are essentially persuasive discourses besides antagonistic exchanges as the debate literature has commonly shown. Face aggravation, which is typically targeted at the opponent, was observed to primarily consist of aggravation of the pure sort oriented towards Hs negative face or his/her desire to be unimpeded upon (ibid.). Negative face aggravation was found to usually lie in the strategies increase imposition weight, refer to rights, duties and rules not respected, fulfilled or complied with respectively, and challenge. A possible explanation for the predominance of this variety of aggravation over others is that a) pure aggravation leaves no doubt as for a politicians intent to discredit the adversary, and b) negative face aggravation is not as hostile as positive face attack in debates and political discourse (cf., e.g. Lakoff, 2001), and enables the speaker to attack the rival without a potential boomerang effect on Ss own image.