How does the spoken language in the clip from “The Apprentice” illustrate issues of power and gender?

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Apprentice candidate style answer 1
How does the spoken language in the clip from “The Apprentice” illustrate issues of power and gender?
In this essay a clip from “The Apprentice” is going to be analysed to see how power relations influence and also how gender can affect speech. The clip is of a board room where two men and two women are speaking. Sir Alan Sugar is in charge and the other three people, Yasmina, Paula and Ben, are being questioned to see who will be fired.

Sir Alan Sugar is the first person to talk in the clip and so he will be analysed first. Sir Alan is in charge and it is up to him what will happen with the people in the room. The three people show that he has the most power by addressing him as “Sir Alan” every time they say his name, whereas everyone else is just addressed by their first name. Sir Alan is the only person who is not interrupted when he is talking, except for when Paula is agreeing with him. He interrupts twice but could interrupt whenever he wants as he is in charge. The three other speakers are all battling for one position and so constantly interrupt and overlap as if they do not it could be seen as a sign of weakness, of letting someone be more powerful than them, which they do not want to do as it may likely lead to them getting fired. Sir Alan’s interruptions are mainly to get enough information so that he can fire the correct person. Ben’s interruptions on the other hand are largely where he is trying to blame the women for what went wrong.

Between Sir Alan and the three candidates there is turn-taking, which does not occur often between the three candidates themselves. They all raise their voices above each other to appear in charge and to make themselves heard. Paula is the project manager and so she is in a position of power as well, but since one of the three is going to be fired then that title counts for nothing. All three are in trouble and since they are shifting the blame onto each other it would appear that at the moment they do not want to have power as one of them is going to be fired and so whoever is the person who had the most power is the person most likely to be fired. All three of them consistently say “you” indicating that it was the other persons fault.

Ben uses informal ‘macho’ language in the scene. He thinks Paula made a “cock up” and a “balls up” and so she should be fired as she was in charge. Sir Alan is rude to the candidates, saying that Paula only has a “feeble excuse” in being a bad team leader and by addressing “Yasmina and Deborah” as girls and not women. Yasmina is first seen as backing Ben up even though later she turns against him, showing that even though none of them want the most power in the room, outside they still crave it and are looking for allies. Yasmina gives Sir Alan some attitude towards the end of the clip by saying “ok” at the end of an utterance. “ok” could be seen by Sir Alan as her questioning his authority and so as a face-threatening act. Sir Alan uses face threatening acts because he is in charge and is trying to intimidate the three other people. Yasmina’s stress on “ok” and Paula’s stress on “did” could both be seen as them needing to justify their actions. Ben’s language is positive when he is talking about himself and he uses both pre and post modifiers when talking about his qualities to emphasise them.

In summary power and gender both play an important part in spoken language. Power is shown in the way that people speak to each other and the language they use. Gender can dictate how people relate to each other, for example how often they interrupt each other.

661 words

Examiner Comments – Band 2 response

The candidate shows some insight and engagement with the material. There is analysis of how speakers in the clip adapt features of their spoken language to try to achieve their desired outcomes in the situation, supported by some relevant references. However, the shorter length of the response possibly prevents the depth of detail and engagement needed for the top band.
Apprentice candidate style answer 2

Exploring Power and Gender in “The Apprentice”

This transcript is taken from the television show “The Apprentice”. In this transcript we have four people. Sir Alan, who is the boss and in control of the conversation, and three contestants Ben, Yasmina and Paula, who are all competing against one another in an attempt to win their dream job of working under Sir Alan. Throughout the transcript we see various aspects of power and gender, for example, interruptions, face challenging acts and politeness principles.

To begin with we can look at the amount of interruptions going on. Research suggests that men interrupt far more than women in mixed conversation (96% of interruptions are supposed to come from men). However in this scenario, the amount of interruptions seems to be far less extreme. Throughout the transcript there are various incidents of Sir Alan interrupting others, for example he interrupts Paula repeatedly at the start:

Paula: I understand that (.) but my skills are in creativity and -
Sir Alan: Well you know how to work out redundancy on a calculator...

However, in these incidents I think it is hard to say that he is interrupting just because he is male. Sir Alan is in a position of control which means that he can interrupt, and is asserting his authority. However, the other male in the scenario – Ben - is guilty of interruption very often. However, when he is interrupted he is shown nowhere near the same amount of respect as is shown to Sir Alan. When Ben interrupts, he is rarely allowed to complete his own utterances, for example:

Ben: But I’ve got a scholarship to Sandhurst –

Yasmina: That’s all very well

The nature of the heated boardroom discussion means that there are many interruptions coming from all three contestants repeatedly. This does not show us a lot about gender, as the number of interruptions from either gender seem to be relatively similar. What it does show us though is how power has an effect on the amount of interruptions. The fact that Sir Alan almost never gets interrupted shows that they do not want to challenge him or question his authority.

This brings us onto the idea of face threatening acts. I don’t believe we really see Sir Alan’s face threatened once throughout the transcript. In fact the opposite takes place. All give him as much respect as possible, referring to him always as “Sir Alan”, showing that they understand he is the person in power. Sir Alan on the other hand deals out various face threatening acts to the contestants, further asserting his power over them. For example “I said I didn’t want to hear from you any more”.

But the contestants are not afraid of criticising each other; for example Ben says “we’re talking about idiots now”. The contestants do this in order to try and gain dominance in the conversation, and an example where this is successful is where Paula says to Ben “you were sixteen, get over yourself”. Ben replies with “w-well it doesn’t (.)...” showing how he has been shocked by this sudden challenge of face, and this gives Paula the upper hand.

We can also examine the aspects of power and gender by looking at the language that each person uses. It is suggested that in mixed sex conversations women make far more effort to involve others where as men are far more likely to talk about themselves than anyone else. It is also said that women are more likely to pay more compliments. I think both these are true in this transcript. Ben is very self absorbed. He is constantly talking about himself and making positive comments about himself and no one else; for example, “I have outstanding leadership” and “I believe I’m a better candidate than you are”. However the women are more likely to give out compliments for example Yasmina compliments Ben by saying “he was very good at selling Sir Alan”. She also involves the others by talking about them collectively as a group e.g. “we could have spotted...” Finally she also uses tag questions to involve others in the conversation, which is another aspect of language associated with women. For example “...I should be judged on how I deal with those mistakes ok?” One other aspect of gender related language here is the use of taboo language. Both Ben and Sir Alan use taboo language; for example “balls up” and “cock up”, where as neither woman uses any at all in the transcript.

Another aspect of power that we can see is how Sir Alan adapts his language to dominate situations. For example, he often pauses during speech to add suspense and tension. He knows that no one will try and interrupt him or challenge his face, so he is able to take time over his speech rather than the others, who have to speak as quickly as possible without thinking to avoid being interrupted. As a result of his position of power, Sir Alan is able to shape the conversation in the way he wants, and can direct it to where he wants it to go. He does this by shifting topics using questions; for example where he says “Who should I fire then?” and “Yasmina, what’s your opinion on this?” He also uses his position of power to step in and give solutions to disputes. For example when the three contestants are arguing, Sir Alan steps in to stop it by saying “this sounds like a bleeding soap opera”, and after this the contestants stop their dispute.

923 words

Examiner Comments – Lower Band 1 response

This response is clearly better than insightful, though analysis not sustained to the top of Band 1. References cogent and there are elements of perceptive insight on both bullets under ‘Language and Media and Technology.’
Apprentice candidate style answer 3

How Does The Spoken Language In This Clip From “The Apprentice” Illustrate Issues of Power & Gender?
In this essay, an analysis will be made as to how both power and gender play an important role in speech.

As with the rest of the show, the transcript begins with Sir Alan, who is the dominant male leader of the group. Immediately it becomes apparent that Sir Alan is in charge as he is the person dictating the direction of the meeting. As well as asking the questions, Sir Alan also interrupts the person responding (which at the beginning is Paula). This in turn disrupts the turn-taking flow of discussion. Not only is this demonstrating a clear sense of hierarchy, it is a face-threatening act. By bluntly stating “But you were the team leader (.) you’re the team leader,” Sugar threatens Paula’s position, and increases his dominance over the group.

However, it’s not just Sir Alan who interrupts, as later in the text Ben also begins interrupting Paula, suggesting that in fact gender may play a key role in the hierarchical position of each speaker. The best example of this would be when Paula starts the utterance “I asked you to,” but is swiftly overpowered by Ben’s interjections, which may well have to do with the fact that he raises the level of his voice substantially. Even Ben however, is overlapped by Sir Alan, highlighting once again that Sugar is the alpha male in the group.

The same cannot be said of the female speakers, as Paula overlaps rather than interrupts, and so does Yasmina. They are in fact the only two speakers who are interrupted, which demonstrates the dominance that the male speakers exert over the female speakers.

Interruptions and overlaps aside, the conversation does seem to follow a reasonably set structure, with Sir Alan asking the questions and leaving the people below him in the hierarchy to provide and discuss the appropriate responses. Within these responses one can notice certain elements of speech that are typical of male and/or female speech. Possibly one of the more obvious features of feminine speech is the use of tag questions, most notably in the statement “I should be judged on how I deal with those mistakes, OK?” from Yasmina. The “OK” suggests that she is seeking some form of backing from other members of the group. This could also be interpreted as an attempt by Yasmina to preserve her positive face.

In addition, Yasmina may be attempting to assert herself in her speech, as she tries to come across more confident in a boardroom that is so clearly centred on male dominance. Similarly, Paula may be trying to do the same thing when she calls Ben “A right thug,” which could be construed as a face-threatening act towards Ben, or perhaps quite simply, rudeness.

What is most noticeable about Ben and Sir Alan is that they are much more direct and to-the-point than Yasmina and Paula. However, in comparison to everyday speech, both the female speakers may have shifted their style somewhat to fit with the male speakers.

This theory is also supported in the way that the contestants speak to Sir Alan in comparison to how they speak to one another. Whilst the contestants use some quite aggressive language amongst one another, they shift to the use of deferential terms when speaking to Sir Alan, ensuring that Sir Alan is addressed appropriately. This leads us to notice the use of other appropriate address terms. As already mentioned, the contestants address Sir Alan as “Sir Alan,” Sir Alan reinforces his power by referring to the contestants by just their first name. Similarly the contestants address each other with first names, but only when in conflict with one another; maybe as a way of attempting to reassert themselves. “That’s a sweeping statement Ben.” Otherwise, the gentler “you” is used, which could possibly be an attempt to ease tension.

In summary, both power and gender play a crucial role in deciding an individual’s status within the group and power is shown through the ability to speak uninterrupted (saving negative face).

669 words

Examiner comments – Band 1 response

The response is perceptive, offering a sound and probing analysis which is subtle and discriminating throughout.

OCR GCSE English Language

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