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Do all human beings have the same value? Polar questions, biased questions and argumentative orientation in one of the Samhällsnytt street interviews
by Houda Landolsi & Birgitta Hellqvist
This study is a semantic and pragmatic analysis of the discursive and argumentative functions of polar (i.e. yes/no questions) and complex questions (trick questions, conducive questions, fallacy of presupposition,…) that occur in one of the street interviews conducted by the Swedish medium Samshällsnytt which presents itself as ‘alternative’.
The present study aims to be qualitative and focuses on a single text: “Är alla människor lika mycket värda?”[Do all human beings have the same value?].
We shall identify and classify the questioning strategies used by the interviewer, the one who controls and orients the conversation, before discussing the replies of a number of interviewees in order to see how these answers are either integrated into the interviewer’s argumentative strategy or deviate from his argumentative schema.
The study aims to show that the use of questions and the order in which they appear are subordinated to an argumentative purpose, which is not to evaluate public opinion on a topic, nor to inform, but rather to orient the argument towards a precise conclusion dealing with the common belief that all human beings have the same value.
The study opens with a short description of the corpus and character of the text being analysed, together with a brief theoretical introduction which sets out the types of questions used.
The analysis itself is composed of three parts, each of them examining a chain of verbal interaction, meaning that the question-asking and question-answering sequence will be seen as a unit.
A first distinction has been made between the introductory question [Do all human beings have the same value?] and the master argument-eliciting question [does a murderer/paedophile/terrorist have the same value as you/ yourself↑]. While the introductory question is intended to clearly state a common premise, the master argument-eliciting question is meant to evoke a counter-argument that entirely destroys the first utterance. The intermediate question is the main one, but it is less predictable.
The last question [what do you think when you hear this (.) that (.) is being blazoned in the media (.) that all human beings have the same value↑], which reformulates the introductory question, has the same propositional content, but the enunciative positioning is changed. The orientation towards negation/negative orientation becomes more explicit.
The answer to the first question is the one expected; the answer to the controversial intermediate question indicates the interviewee’s cultural and ideological background; while the answer to the final question reveals the interviewee’s interpretation of ideas presented by the interviewer as a fallacious perception of the truth.
The study arrives to the conclusion that the questions are conducive and biased. If the questions are biased, it is not merely in their semantic content, but also and especially in their sequence. The sequence of questions sets up a contrast between människor (human beings) as an almost abstract notion and the categories of such beings whose lives are judged to be deviant and shameful. The bias is created and maintained by the presence of the nature/culture amalgamation. The result is an apparent contradiction in interviewees’ responses: yes, all humans have the same value, but a murderer, a paedophile or a terrorist do not have the same value as I do. As human beings, we all have value, but the choices we make determine the added value of each one of us. The explanations which replace a simple yes or no are presented as a negotiation which might resolve the contradiction in the reasoning. This negotiation ends with the interviewee abandoning his initially entrenched position and modifying his assertion without, however, rejecting it. His new reply proves to be less categorical and more accommodating, as he searches for possible explanations to resolve the difference of opinion.
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIzwzLfosXo&t=158s [editor’s note: The URL leads to a website with content that may be anti-democratic. In consultation with the authors, we have removed the link to the URL, but not the URL itself.]
One Reply to “[OPR] Landolsi/Hellqvist: Do all human beings have the same value? Polar questions, biased questions and argumentative orientation in one of the Samhällsnytt street interviews”
This is a valuable paper dealing with an understudied journalistic subgenre: the street interview. The argumentative and interactional approach is largely convincing.