The English language contains many aspects and tools used to gain power and authority when speaking. In a political broadcast interview gaining information and turn-taking is expected. Therefore when Jeremy Paxman, the interviewer, speaks in a blunt and outspoken way to George Galloway, a politician who has just won an election to become a Member of Parliament beating a black female labour party member, the interview quickly turns into one of a challenging and aggressive nature. In my own classroom experience of question and answer it has had a very asymmetric relationship. The teacher maintains the power through asking questions and topic management. However it is a different situation to a political interview for many reasons. For example, the teacher who is asking the questions will usually already know the expected answers and the pupils will be novices on the subject, unlike Paxman and Galloway who can use the proper jargon with less false starts and fillers. Furthermore there is more than one student in the classroom so a single person cannot hold the full attention of the teacher and for this reason will not ever hold full power individually.
The structure of the interview changes from one of a well-mannered and respectful temperament to a battle for power and a disrespectful verbal brawl. Repetition in the interview is a tool which Paxman uses to aggravate Galloway. At the beginning, Paxman tries to repeat ‘Are you proud of having got rid of one of the very few black women in Parliament?’ four times which Galloway refuses to answer from the start. This highlights that the interview will be a continuous struggle for dominance. The fact that Galloway will not answer could show that he is trying to hide the fact that he has exploited racial tensions to gain a seat in Parliament. A typical interview has a structure of initiation-response-feedback (IRF). However as Galloway interrupts and overlaps, a lot the structure is broken down. He does not allow Paxman to either initiate the questions or feedback on his answers.
This emphasises that Galloway and Paxman do not agree with each other and as Galloway does not allow Paxman to complete the usual interview structure of IRF means that he often has authority instead of the interviewer. Furthermore you can see that Galloway thinks himself as more important and dominant than Paxman when he speaks for long sections at a time. Here he may be trying to show that he is in charge but instead of sounding influencing and formal, his long sections of speech end up sounding like a rant. This gives Paxman the upper hand, because he can tell Galloway is getting annoyed and thrown off at some of the questions. However whenever when either of them is asking or answering questions their lexical choices help to maintain their dominance.
The lexis used by Paxman and Galloway have been used with consideration both to provoke and to gain authority over the other. Galloway says twice during the interview that it was a ‘sensational election.’ The word ‘sensational’ indicates that he is proud of winning the election. Also the word could demonstrate that it was one of the most remarkable times in his life, so as if to highlight that he can’t believe the negativity in which Paxman is using to question him, when he should in fact be congratulating him.
On the other hand, ‘sensational’ could expose that Galloway exploited tensions in the area and never imagined to get such a result, beating Oona King by more than eight hundred votes. Equally, towards the end of the interview he uses the word ‘victory’ which continues to publish that to Galloway the election was a planed and prepared conquest, in which he used the area of Bethnal Green and Bow’s weaknesses to his own good. This is because the word ‘victory’ is often used in conjunction with a battle, fight or war where tactics are arranged and adjusted in order to create the largest, quickest and easiest success possible.
A major turning point of the interview is when Paxman calls Galloway a ‘demagogue.’ For the longest period in the interview Paxman has influence and authority, with Galloway answering with only short and direct answers. The word ‘demagogue’ means a person who gains popularity using the prejudices and emotions of the people. Therefore Paxman is inferring that Galloway did not rightfully gain his seat in Parliament but instead secured it by being an agitator or a firebrand. Besides this, it shows that other politicians have been speaking about him and not in a kindly way as the word ‘demagogue’ was a quote taken from Nick Raynsford.
Therefore Galloway is not in a powerful position because Paxman is not the only person who will speak out about how he believes that Galloway did not gain his seat in parliament fairly. . A breakdown of authority here is evident, not just from Galloway’s tone of voice and word choice but from his paralinguistic choices too.
Paralinguistic features such as facial expressions, gestures and body language play an important part in television interviews. After Galloway has been insulted with the word ‘demagogue’ Paxman questions him on the Members of Parliament. When Galloway replies ‘Yes, I have, yes’ he nods and his eyebrows lower. The fact that his eyebrows lower could show that he is confused and concerned about what Paxman has to say. This clarifies that the power relationship is still one in which Paxman holds authority.
Lowered eyebrows can also indicate annoyance- Galloway cannot see the relevance of these questions to him winning the election- and they could also imply deception- Galloway does not want the people of Bethnal Green and Bow to see what his other colleagues have thought about his approach to gaining the votes. This means that Paxman has exposed Galloway for a short time so he is under Paxman’s control and restraints.
While Galloway is speaking at the end of the interview Paxman sits back and looks bored. Although this could imply that he is not affected nor bothered about what Galloway has to say hence not giving him control, it could also imply that Paxman has now been reduced to fact Galloway is right and cannot think of any worthy comebacks to say thus handing the domination he has to Galloway.
In conclusion, throughout the interview power and authority give the opportunity to speak in a certain way with a different tone of voice and paralinguistic features which you wouldn’t use unless in charge. For instance, teachers usually stand while addressing the class making themselves taller and seemingly more important than the pupils. In the interview both Paxman and Galloway were sitting so the contest for power continued. Furthermore a teacher could use an encouraging, controlling or superior tone of voice which informs the pupils whom to look up to and respect. Yet when Paxman spoke in a condensing manner with inflammatory language Galloway did not back down, instead the struggle for power was more prominent. Throughout the interview you can seen that power can shape spoken language in copious amounts but also that the way you speak the English language can determine the authority you have.
Courtney from Study Moose
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