Evaluation of “Status” as a Persuasive Tool in Spanish and American Pre-electoral Debates in Times of Crisis

Mercedes Diez-Prados, Ana Belén Cabrejas-Peñuelas


The evaluative function of language is explored from the point of view of the expression of “status,” or how the world is presented, and its persuasive potential in pre-electoral debates in the US and Spain. The types of statements used in two comparable corpora in Spanish and English are examined using Hunston’s model (2000; 2008) for the evaluation of “status”—the degree of alignment of a proposition and the world—to discover similarities and differences between them. The results show that, in general, all politicians prefer to use statements that refer to the actual world—“world-reflecting statements” in Hunston’s classification—rather than “world-creating propositions” in an attempt to be seen as objective candidates. However, each language group behaves differently: Americans seem to prefer a more rational stance and Spaniards favor opinions and value judgments in the samples analyzed. The correspondence found in the results between certain rhetorical strategies and success in the post-debate elections may be an indicator of using effective discursive strategies by winners as opposed to losers. In our corpus, election winners used more objective propositions in the debate than losers—the ethos of the former may, thus, be more reliable—which may, in turn, imply that this strategy contributes to persuading the audience. If this is so, adopting a negative stance of facts attributed to the opponent seems to contribute to persuasion more than a positive stance of ideal intentions and suggestions attributed to oneself, which means that the audience gives more credibility to negatively-depicted actions than to positively-charged intentions. This conclusion may be self-evident somehow, but this study provides empirical quantitative evidence to support it.

Keywords: Critical Discourse Analysis; evaluation; status; persuasion; political discourse; pre-electoral debates

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