Addressing hearers in media discourse is variable


The research group has a new finding about the role of hearers in media discourse. Mass media interactions occur in institutional environments, so the roles of the speakers participating in these interactions are quite different from those in spontaneous conversations. That is, the professionals engaged in such interactions (usually broadcasters and journalists) normally address a wide and anonymous audience that is not always present; the participants in media discourse do not necessarily coincide with the physical speaker and hearer, and they are considered to be construal roles. Therefore, the traditional dyadic speaker–hearer relationship cannot entirely accommodate media interactions and these roles, particularly those of the hearer, must be redefined.

Despite the diverse theoretical proposals made regarding the hearing roles of the media audience (hearer, listener, addressee, overhearer, eavesdropper, etc.), the most convenient hearer–participant categorical distinction that can be made in media discourse is that between hearer and addressee. Such a distinction has been considered as essential in speech act theory, since speakers project their utterances not only towards a concrete interlocutor but also towards other hearers. In some oral genres, such as television or radio, participants may simultaneously be hearers and addressees, while others can be only hearers, thus implying that participation in media encounters, usually aimed at strengthening the proximity between speaker and hearer, should find the most appropriate way to index interlocutors across each genre.

By the use of the second-person singular and plural objects, te/a ti [‘you/to you’ sing.], le/a usted [‘you/to you’ sing.] and les/a ustedes [‘you/to you’ pl.] two basic pragmatic functions referred to hearer-participants in media discourse may be used; when the referent of the object is interpreted as a wide, general and unknown group of hearers, the hearer function emerges, whereas indexing a specific interlocutor or group of them gives rise to the addressee function. The hearer function is defined as the wide and diffuse audience that a media speaker is speaking to, whereas the addressee is considered to be hearer(s)–participant(s) who is or are directly indexed or addressed vocatively by the speaker, usually (but not necessarily) due to his/her/their presence in the interaction. They both serve to perform different meanings that can generate variable effects across communicative situations and are aimed at the accomplishment of different goals.

A quantitative analysis of addressing hearer-participants by means of the second-person singular objects te/a ti and le/usted [‘to you’ sing.] indicates that the prototypical addressee function is the most frequent function performed by them. However, te/a ti [‘to you’ sing.] person object obtains a slightly higher score of the hearer function, which may be illustrated by the following example, in which a journalist presenting a magazine genre addresses the non-specific audience of the programme he is broadcasting by using the singular-person object clitic te.

(1) Como siempre\ en los primeros instantes del programa\ te recordamos las vías de contacto que siempre tienes abiertas para ti de par en par\ y dispuestos a recibir por ejemplo\ tus correos electrónicos a través de\(CCEC )

‘Like always, at the first moments of the program we remind you the ways of contact that are always opened wide for you. We are also ready to receive your e-mails at

Conversely, the second-person plural object distributes its pragmatic reference among the hearer and addressee functions, notwithstanding, the second-person object plural usage increases in a remarkable way the hearer function. This would indicate, as is expected, that the plural variant, due to the fuzziness of its reference, acquires richer communicative possibilities; thus it may be used to designate a wide range of interlocutors or hearer-participants, according to previous findings in other research on plural deictics and references. Moreover, there exist meaningful differences in how these functions are performed by either the omitted or the expressed variants of the second-person objects.

The variable reference addressing of the second-person plural object can be noticed in the following excerpts: in (2) the broadcaster is speaking to the unknown audience of the program, referring to ‘ustedes’ through the agreement with the clitic les, whereas (3) only indexes a second-person object present in the interaction, i.e. ‘the mayors’. Thus the former may be classified as a hearer addressing and the latter as an addressee addressing.

(2) Hoy en Esta es mi tierra vamos a estar en todas las islas en directo\ para ver qué hacen\ qué se cuentan y además tendremos música/ salud/cocina/fotografía/ historia y mucho más\ todo para acompañarles hasta las 12 del mediodía\(CCEC)

‘Today in Esta es mi tierra we will be live with all the islands to see what they do, what they say and we will also have music, health, photography, history and much more, all this to keep you company until noon’.

(3) Les pregunto a ustedes como alcaldes que tienen ya una veteranía y han visto pasar diversos modelos de telefonía móvil\ (CCEC)

‘I request you as mayors having had long service and having seen many cell-phone models’.

The analysis in texts of the Corpus Conversacional de Canarias (CCEC) shows that this choice is unevenly distributed across media genres and socio-professional speakers. The absolute frequencies of hearer function are higher in those genres where information and entertainment are dominant, such as news programmes and magazines, serving to refer to a general audience that is supposedly listening to the programme. Journalists and politicians are the socio-professional groups that most take advantage of the meaningful potential of the hearer function of the second-person object, while others rarely draw upon it. This all seems to be related to the kinds of communicative styles that speakers try to project onto communicative situations and to the goals expected to be accomplished in them. The usage of the hearer function of the second-person plural object is useful for the purposes of particular texts and genres, and it also serves to develop a particular image of the speaker by shaping a concrete communicative styles.

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