Mode, Tenor, and Field in a Casual Conversation: An Interview with Twilight's Robert Pattinson
The movie trilogy based off the book series Twilight has caused an immense stir amongst filmgoers, especially female filmgoers, of all ages above a certain hormonal threshold. Having personally seen these movies, the author can say with a fair amount of confidence that there is little truly intellectual or philosophical value in the story told; even the mythic elements and character archetypes that are touched on in the films never fully develop. This does not mean that there is absolutely no academic value derived from the film, however, and in fact a certain interview conducted with Robert Pattinson, one of the stars and primary heartthrobs of the Twilight series, provides interesting information about the movies and bout the nature of language.
In the following pages, an interview with Robert Pattinson conducted by "Chuck the Movieguy," an amateur-ish movie reviewer with a video blog series and available for viewing on youtube, will be examined according to certain linguistic concepts. Specifcially, the field, tenor, and mode of this particular conversation will be identified and analyzed, so as to develop a fuller and more detailed understanding of exactly what is being said (and not said), and how it is being said. A great deal of artifice is explicitly referenced in the conversation and is also found to be embedded in certain external aspects of the conversation and its context as well, showing a much greater degree of continuity and integrity in the various conversational elements than might be expected, yet for reasons without much integrity at all.
In linguistic terminology, the term "field" refers to the explicit subject matter or topic of a given conversation (Kleifgen 2006). In other words, the field is the substance of the conversation as it can be perceived through the actual words and their dictionary (or commonly understood) definitions and meanings (Kleifgen 2006). In some perspectives, this is the simplest, most direct, and primary aspect of language, and the one whose purpose must be directly fulfilled before moving to include deeper levels of conversation Kleifgen 2006). Through an examination of the field of a given conversation, the effects of subject matter and meaning on vocabulary and word choice in a particular instance can be demonstrated.
In this interview the subject matter is, broadly put, Twilight. Mor specifically, the field of the conversation is Robert Pattinson's role in the movie series and the enormous fan response that it has generated. This includes some commentary on the effect of this fan response on Chuck the Movieguy's website, and while certain specifics of the filming and promotional experience are discussed it is generally in the context of the craze surrounding Pattinson. In noting the peculiarities of filming and fan response, Pattinson describes feelings of both awkwardness and fear due to the pressures that the fans create, brining the emotional experience of facing these fans and contending with them during filming into the field as well. Overall, the field of the conversation contains the experience of filming certain scenes, the enormity of fan response to the films, and the effects of fan response on filming and publicity.
The choice of words that this field leads to is a very interesting feature of this conversation, because despite the casual seeming nature of the conversation there are certain undercurrents that seem to be affecting and limiting word choice to some degree. Specifically, Chuck the Movieguy turns to the camera and addresses the viewer directly a few times, and while it is clear from the language used that Pattinson is made uncomfortable by the attention he receives from fans, neither Chuck nor Pattinson use any language that could be considered aggressive or offensive -- words that might be expected given the conversation's field. Words that are used a lot by both Pattinson and Chuck are "I" and "they," referring to the fans, which set up a clear dichotomy and thus establishing a certain degree of camaraderie by association for the two participants in the conversation, as well.
The word "tenor" in the context of a linguistic examination of a conversation refers to the roles that the participants in the conversation occupy, both in a larger external context and in their relationship with each other (Kleifgen 2006). That is, a discussion of tenor includes a discussion of the relative status and power that exists for each of the participants in the conversation, as well as any relevant societal roles that have an impact on the conversation or that are suggested by the context (Kleifgen 2006). Simply put, tenor is the answer to the question, "who is doing the conversating in this conversation?," though the implications and ramifications of this questions are more complex than might be thought.
In this particular instance, the basic societal roles that the participants occupy are a movie star/heartthrob and a B-rate interviewer and film critic (Pattinson is the former and Chuck the Movieguy the latter, just to be completely clear). The power structure that exists between the two individuals cannot be stated quite so quickly or so simply, however, and actually reveals some distinct complexities that definitely have an impact on the meaning and implications of the conversation as a whole. On the one hand, Pattinson is very well recognized, highly paid, and a truly sought-after commodity in the entertainment industry by producers and viewers alike, which certainly seems to give him power over the unrecognizable, drastically lower-paid youtube-posting interviewer seated across from him. At the same time, this Chuck the Movieguy is one of the ways in which Pattinson is delivered to his fans -- the people that ultimately fund his movies (by attracting advertising dollars, it's true, but ultimately the result is the same), and the traditional power relationship between interviewer and interviewee also strengthens Chuck's position in this conversation.
In addition to occupying the role of a film star, Pattinson is also, of course, acting as something of a salesman for both himself and his movie. Chuck the Movieguy doesn't really cater to this, asking questions that are more about the artifice and the ridiculousness of the hype surrounding the film. This puts Chuck in a position of power over Pattinson, who is also constrained by his need to refrain from alienating is fans while at the same time providing honest and casual-seeming answers to Chuck's questions. The many roles being played here have a definite effect on language.
The third major category of analysis for conversations is the mode, which can be thought of as answering the question, "What is the language doing?," or perhaps, "How is the language doing what it does?" (Kleifgen 2006). The mode contains some basic information such as the "code" -- the language being spoken, and more specifically the dialect or iteration of that language -- and more complex parameters such as the precise function of the language and the way in which one conversation compares to other conversations (Kleifgen 2006). The physical type of communication present, such as written text, email, spoken word, etc., is also considered an important part of the mode for any conversation or other language-based interaction or communication between individuals.
The mode in the conversation at hand is quite obviously spoken English, and the two speakers appear to be sharing the same exact code despite different regional backgrounds and countries of origin leading to a greater possibility that there would be some divergence of language between the two. At the same time, it is not clear that the two conversants here are truly listening to each other; Chuck the Movieguy has a tendency to interrupt Pattinson before the actor is done responding to a question, and at the same time some of Pattinson's responses seem only tangentially related to…