Analyzing a Speech Event: The Bush-Rather Exchange A (not very) Dramatic Dialogue

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Essay Excerpt

In the Winter of 1988, several professors were meeting weekly to discuss their various approaches to analyzing language use; one day, the discussion turned to the nine-minute exchange between Vice President George Bush and Dan Rather that had recently occurred on CBS News and was already occasioning much comment in the press. They agreed it was an exceptionally deviant event, more contest than cooperation, but to their surprise, they disagreed rather sharply over who came off the winner; doubt arose as to whether their colleagues were the fully competent culture-bearers they had appeared to be heretofore. They obtained a videotape of the disputed segment and assigned a graduate student to do a transcript (see Appendix). Upon repeated group viewings and discussion, the differences became more articulated, as they each brought the apparatus of their special perspectives to bear, and it occurred to them they were at least as interested in comparing the kinds of insights and blindnesses that each of their perspectives produced as in carrying the day. In addition, they were joined by one of the participants' cousins (identified below as "Sam"-not his real name), who was in town to arrange television coverage of the Sonics/Lakers playoff games and was invited to analyze the event from the perspective of the medium. They decided to present their arguments, rather than their conclusions, to a wider audience, for the main consensus that emerged from their discussion was that theirs was a typical academic discussion, more contest than cooperation, and that to no one's surprise, they disagreed rather sharply over who came off the winner. (Dillon, Doyle, Eastman, Schiffman, Silberstein, Toolan, Kline and Philipsen, 73)

About the Authors

George Dillon, My scholarly efforts have been devoted to analyzing the workings of language in literature, academic writing, and advice writing, always with a view toward literary, textual, and discourse theory. At present, I expend good bit of time developing new uses of on-line technology to support courses in English Syntax, World Englishes, and corpus based analysis of kinds of writing. These on-line corpora also support my current research project, which is to give more specificity and substance to our accounts of writing in the academic disciplines. I also have made and maintain "resource" sites for studying English language and sites supporting books in visual analysis. (See my personal website.)

Anne Doyle, journalist, reporter, woman of many trades. 

Carol Eastman was a anthropologist whose linguistic skills took her to Africa to do her research. She learned Swahili and focused much of her time on language and its reflections in culture. SHe then turned to power and the interplay between that and language. 

Harold Schiffman, is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania's Arts and Sciences South Asian Studies program. 

Sandra Silberstein is a Professor at the University of Washington's English Department.  

Michael Toolan is a Professor of English Language at the Univerdsity of Birmingham. 

Susan Kline is an Associate Professor and Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies at the Ohio State University. 

Gerry Philipsen is Professor of Communication at the University of Washington. He studies culturally distinctive codes of communicative conduct, and is the originator of the influential speech codes theory, an empirically grounded, testable, and tested scientific theory. Over the past thirty four years at the University of Washington he has supervised thirty four doctoral dissertations that, taken together, encompass long-term fieldwork in nine language varieties and nine countries. He teaches the arts of discussion, conciliation, advocacy, intercultural communication, communal speech, and ethnography. At the university he has been department chair, chair of the faculty senate, and secretary of the university faculty. Presently he is a conciliation officer for faculty-administration disputes and founding director of the university’s Center for Local Strategies Research. In 1984 he received the university’s Distinguished Teaching Award and in 2000 its first award for Faculty Distinguished Contribution to Lifelong Learning.

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