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A PRAGMA-DISCOURSE STUDY OF FACE-SAVING AND FACE-THREATENING ACTS ON THE BBC’S HARDTALK INTERVIEW
1.1 Background to the Study
It appears emphases are laid on the description of how language is communicatively used in different contexts rather than on grammatical rules. In justification of this view, Honey(1997:118) avers that ‗‗ The task of linguist is never to prescribe how words should be used, only to describe how they can be seen to be used in actual practice‘‘. The business of the linguist is essentially descriptive and it should be based on observed language behaviour.Functional Linguistics, that is the aspect of Linguistics concerned with language in use, has therefore continued to gain more prominence than prescriptivism or traditional grammar. The essence of using language is to communicate meaning, and since meaning itself is fluid and context-dependent, any attempt at meaning explication that is limited to linguistic, grammatical imports of utterances without adequate recourse to the context of utterance may not be complete. Words take on extra nuances of meaning when they go out to work. Language itself is constantly changing. Widdowson (1996:70) buttresses this fact thus:
Language...is not essentially a static and well-defined cognitive construct but a mode of communication which is intrinsically dynamic and unstable. Its forms are significant only insofar as we can associate them with their communicative functions.
No doubt, Pragmatics is one aspect of Linguistics that addresses the place of context in meaning realisation. Leech (1983:1) highlights the place of Pragmatics in language use when he asserts that ‗‗... we cannot really understand the nature of language itself unless we understand Pragmatics; how language is used in communication.‘‘ For adequate realisation of meaning, therefore, context of utterance is crucial. It is this context of utterance and the influence this bears on meaning that Pragmatics is concerned with, essentially. Adding his voice to the indispensability of context in accounting for the meaning of utterances, Mey (2001:42) maintains that:
No matter how naturalour language facilities or how convention bound their use, as language users, we always operate in contexts. Therefore, the context looms large, and has to be taken into account whenever we formulate our thoughts about language.
This shows that even conventions in language bend to context in meaning realisation. Conventions are not explicated in isolation. The context in which they operate have to be accounted for.The media is one platform on which language plays a predominant role. Ahmadvand (2008:35) observes that ‗‗the undeniable power of the media has inspired many critical studies in many disciplines...‘‘. Unarguably, this power of the media is not unconnected with language.
It is very interesting how discussants, especially on international media interview platforms such as the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)HARDtalk interview programme exploit the pliability and indeed, the malleability of language to achieve their aims. The intricacy of interrogating or defending controversial political issues on far-reaching, broadcasting organisations, require discreetness. Such platforms are one instance that showcases how things are done with words (Austin, 1962). In an attempt to assert, defend, deny, debunk or condemn an idea, media interlocutors display their mastery (or otherwise) of language. Such demanding communicative encounters sometimes elicit a lot of covert information regarding the attitude and personal biases of the discussants towards the issue being discussed and other underlying ones. Individual and group ideologies and biases can slip off the lips of the interlocutors as they engage in heated arguments over serious political or other issues of consequence. Virtually every turn made by the interviewee, is either concurring with or refuting certain notions or perceptions. The success of this is largely determined by the skilful use of language. This battle of asserting and refuting views and ideas is even fiercer when the discussion is political and the topic is a controversial or highly sensitive one, as the main one being studied. Although it has been observed that what a speaker intends to communicate is characteristically far richer than what he directly expresses, pragmatically (Amodu, 2011:92), it is also tenable to say that from the little that is uttered, many valid deductions can be made using pragmatic principles. When utterances are subjected to pragmatic scrutiny, they yield a lot of interesting results.
Ibileye (2007:78) observes, that‗...language is an instrument or weapon with which territorial barriers can be broken down....‘ Yet, it must be stated that language is not only used to break
barriers, but also to erect them, wittingly or unwittingly. As a weapon, therefore, language can be wielded in communicative ‗combats‘ to assert, counter or alter opinions and views. Needless to say that radio and television interviews are instances where language is employed as a weapon and indeed used to build or break down different forms of barriers.
It has been observed that it is not language on its own that is powerful, but the way it is used. Needless to say that utterances can have far-reaching consequences. ‗‗For by thy words thou shalt be justified and by thy words thou shalt be condemned‘‘ as the Christian Holy Writ declares (Matt. 12: 37, KJV) hints at the possible consequences of one‘s utterances, especially in certain circumstances. Political office holders can lose face or popularity, be queried or even dismissed from service by their bosses for making unwarranted or tactless utterances in the media. When therefore a political adviser is being interviewed on an international media station over some knotty political issues in his government, you can understand how dicey the situation is. There is a lot at stake. Also, a politician for instance, can lose support and/or incur heavy criticism just for what he/she says on air. (One such case is the political statement attributed to the immediate past President of Nigeria, Dr Jonathan, that ‗‗stealing is not corruption‘‘ which went viral in the Nigerian society recently and also echoed beyond the shores of the country.) Political interviews are therefore, a serious business to political office holders in particular. One interview can make or mar a politician or portray the administration he/she represents in bad light.
The BBC World Service is one of the most widely-recognised international broadcasters, currently broadcasting in 32 languages to many parts of the world via analogue and digital shortwave, internet streaming and podcasting, satellite, Frequency Modulation (FM) and Medium Wave (MW) relays. It is politically independent, non-profit and commercial-free. It broadcasts radio and television programmes. The English language service broadcasts 24 hours a day. In May 2007, the BBC reported that the World Service‘s average weekly audience had reached 183 million people, beating the previous record of 163 million listeners set the year before. HARDtalk is BBC World News‘ flagship current affairs interview, usually presented by Stephen Sackur(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bbc-world-service). Stephen Sackur, the presenter of HARDtalk, BBC World News' flagship current affairs interview programme, has been a journalist with BBC News since 1986. Broadcasting across BBC World News, BBC News Channel and BBC World Service, Stephen has interviewed many high-profile guests. With a keen interest in politics, he has interviewed President George W. Bush, covered the 2000 US Presidential Elections, the Clinton scandal and impeachment trial, and the ways and means of lawmaking, including campaign finance reform. In November 2010, Stephen was awarded the "International TV Personality of the Year Award" by the Association of International Broadcasters. Born in Lincolnshire, England, Stephen was educated at both Cambridge and Harvard University.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bbc-world-service)
1.2 Statement of the Research Problem
The media is one of the most influential institutions of a society. Media interviews provide useful instances of how people manipulate language. Harris (1986) in Frank (1989:53), observes that ‗‗... broadcast interviews (especially political news interviews) have developed into an important means of journalistic enquiry not only as a way of conveying information to the public but also as a way of raising and discussing controversial issues.‘‘ As the interviewer and the interviewee interact using language, face threats can occur. How face-threatening and face-saving acts occur in interviews and how they are managed is part of the interest of this study.
One‘s political utterances, whether one supports or opposes the government of the day, can have far- reaching consequences both on oneself and on others. This is particularly the case in most African fledgling democracies where freedom of speech can be expensive in terms of threat to one‘s life. Anyone who goes on air to air his/her views must do so circumspectly. When the media go out in search of opinions on heated issues of the day, people think twice before they display their faces on television cameras or speak to reporters about such thorny issues. Normally, most ‗ordinary‘ citizens will prefer to present sealed lips. Even politicians who dare to speak on controversial matters of the state do so cautiously. They may employ taciturnity, vagueness, circumlocution or prevarication as a means of hedging themselves from possible indictment.
Shrewd media interviewers, however, have skilful strategies they deploy to enmesh their respondents, if they desire to do so. How they use words to do this is intriguing. They may not always succeed though, since the respondents themselves are not at all naive. It appears certain people, especially politicians, have trained themselves adequately to match the dexterity of media practitioners at putting words into people‘s mouths as well as ‗catching‘ people by their words. It is like the hunters-birds situation: since hunters have learnt to shoot without missing, the birds too have learnt to fly without perching (Achebe, 1958)! Politicians have, therefore, devised ways of wriggling their way out of ‗media interview traps‘ by their clever use of words. This study, therefore, examines the discourse strategies employed by interactants on media interviews to entangle and/or wriggle out of serious political issues.This study looks at how interlocutors on radio interview programmes use language to accomplish their aims. How the Politeness Principle comes into play in the interviews is also part of the concerns of the study.
1.3 Research Questions
This research seeks answers to the questions itemised below.
(i) What acts do interlocutors on radio interviews perform and how do they perform them?
(ii) How do Face-saving/Face-threatening Acts affect interlocutors and their responses?
(iii) How are Face-threatening Acts managed in interviews?
(iv) Do Face-threatening Acts arise from implicatures?
1.4 Aim and Objectives
This research is set to explore how the pragmatic principle of politeness operates in selected editions of the BBC HARDtalk interview. The objectives of the study include to:
(i) identify what acts have been performed and how they are performed by the interlocutors;
(ii) outline the likelyeffects of Face-Threatening and Face-Saving Acts(FTAs/FSAs) on the interlocutors and their responses;
(iii) explore how Face-Threatening Acts are managed in interviews
(iv) identifyhow implicatures may harbour face threats.