Features of CNN Commentator Discourse

The analysis is based on a conversation between Christiane Ananpour, CNN chief international correspondent and Bashar Ja-Afari, Syrian Ambassador to the United States. Public broadcast discussions and public broadcast interviews belong to spoken dialogical discourse.

It can be called an example of standard English, because the conversation is takes place on the international channel and the guest is an important person in the current political situation. That is why the usage of slang or even colloquialisms might lead to unexpected problems. In addition, the guest is a foreigner, so it might be easier for him to understand standard English.

The language of the CNN commentator features several important characteristics of a spoken discourse. Among them are turn-taking, back-channel support, multiple interruptions, repetitions, intonations and false starts.

Turn-taking is an essential feature of a dialogical spoken discourse, because it helps to avoid unnecessary interruptions and is a signal to the participants of the communication when to talk and when to keep silence. On the textual level, there are certain turn yielding and turn-anticipation cues in the sentences that mark the end of a cue. For example, stereotypical gestures and tags:

1. “So, Mr. Ambassador, welcome.” (“Senate’s Syria Hearing,” 2013)

2. “Congressman Paul, first to you. You are totally – correct me if I’m wrong – totally opposed to any U.S. military force in Syria right now despite all of that evidence that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against its own people, is that right?” (“Senate’s Syria Hearing,” 2013)

3. “Are you saying that there are no chemical weapons in Syria, or are you just saying that you didn’t do it?” (“Senate’s Syria Hearing,” 2013)

Back-channel support is a notion that refers to short responses that help to fill pauses like “really, oh, hmm” and to noises in the studio. In case of the analyzed interview, these two types of back-channel support were present. The interviewer was in the London studio and the interviewee was in New York, so there was a slight difference in time and the signal was sometimes late. In addition, Christiane Ananpour sometimes was taking the time to reformulate the idea so that is would be diplomatic enough and the Ambassador could understand her. She used synonymous constructions that also refer to back-channel support. For example:

1. “You say you have been calling on the American administration for years, since the beginning of the crisis, to get involved, positively speaking, in resolving this crisis, which is dramatic and regretful – regrettable.” (“Senate’s Syria Hearing,” 2013)

2. “Now the problem – the problem with what you’re saying though – the problem with what you’re saying is that you are confusing Iraq and Syria.” (“Senate’s Syria Hearing,” 2013)

3. “OK. All right, let me ask you this, sir. Nobody believes you basically because everything you’ve said — not just you, but I mean your government, and you speak you’re your government, everything you’ve said over the last two and a half years have simply been, you know, swatted away by the facts.” (“Senate’s Syria Hearing,” 2013)

There are many interruptions in the speech of the CNN commentator. They are used not to give the interviewee an opportunity to express his position that does not correspond to the policy of the channel and the state. In fact, Christiane Ananpour filters the commentaries of Syrian Ambassador. These examples illustrate this situation:

1. “AMANPOUR: Sir, sir, sir…

JA’AFARI: So the Russians submitted a report…

AMANPOUR: Nobody can take seriously …

JA’AFARI: Give me some …

AMANPOUR: Sir, nobody takes seriously the idea …

JA’AFARI: Give me some time, please, to clarify my point. The Russians submitted that report of 80 pages to the Security Council.

AMANPOUR: You’ve made your point on that. You’ve made your point.” (“Senate’s Syria Hearing,” 2013)

2. “AMANPOUR: That’s how you’ve been justifying it. I guess I want to know in our… JA’AFARI: The Arab League…

AMANPOUR: In our final – in our final minute or so, how do you sleep at night, Mr. Ja’afari?” (“Senate’s Syria Hearing,” 2013)

3. “AMANPOUR: Mr. Ja’afari.

JA’AFARI: All the victims will be innocence, whether they are American…

AMANPOUR: Mr. Ja’afari.

JA’AFARI: Syrians, Iranians, Turkish and Saudis or Jordanians. Our -our own…

AMANPOUR: Ambassador Ja’afari.

JA’AFARI: Sons will be the victims.

AMANPOUR: Ambassador Ja’afari, thank you for joining me.” (“Senate’s Syria Hearing,” 2013)

Intonation is an important aspect that characterizes the speech of the CNN commentator as a spoken discourse. She asks many questions in each cue to keep the tension of the discussion. These questions usually paraphrase each other, because the interviewee might not be able to understand such massive flow of information. Though, the rising intonations are one of the main characteristics of Christiane Ananpour’s speech.

1. “Is your government fully aware of how vulnerable it is to the might of the United States and its allies? Are you prepared and are you aware that many of your significant military facilities are possibly going to be destroyed?” (“Senate’s Syria Hearing,” 2013)

2. “Mr. Ja’afari, so what will the — how will it affect the morale of your government if and when the U.S. takes this action and a lot of your military facilities will be destroyed? They’re not saying they’re going in as an invading force, but you’ve seen these actions in the past, you’ve seen it in other places, cruise missiles, other strikes, they can be devastating. Are you afraid of defections of the government and its allies sort of collapsing?” (“Senate’s Syria Hearing,” 2013)

3. “How do you sleep at night, Mr. Ja’afari, defending a regime, a government, that has caused so much bloodshed and that has really crossed the line from any kind of civil war into weapons of mass destruction, into one of the highest crimes of international law? How do you personally sleep at night?” (“Senate’s Syria Hearing,” 2013)

Spoken discourse features a variety of both verbal and non-verbal characteristics. Their combination defines the tone and the atmosphere of the discussion. For example, certain poses, facial expressions and gazes can let people know what the real attitude to them is. In the case of the interview Bashar Ja-Afari gave to Christiane Ananpour, the CNN commentator was initially accusing her guest and it was evident from her facial expression and pose when the Ambassador expressed his opinion. The verbal means also fully expressed the position of the journalist (and thus the one of the channel and the state) towards the Syrian government. The whole discussion belongs to the spoken discourse, as the current analysis illustrated, and that is why it is emotionally rich, which helps to provoke the emotions of the people, who watch the interview.


Ananpour, Cr. (Interviewer) & Ja-Afari, B. (Interviewee). (2013). Senate’s Syria Hearing; Interview With Syrian Ambassador. [Interview video file]. Retrieved from: http://uneditedpolitics.com/syrian-ambassador-bashar-jaafari-interview-with-cnns-amanpour-defends-assad-regime-9313/

Ananpour, Cr. (Interviewer) & Ja-Afari, B. (Interviewee). (2013). Senate’s Syria Hearing; Interview With Syrian Ambassador. [Interview transcription file]. Retrieved from: http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1309/03/cnr.07.html

Ready to start?