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Compare and Contrast J.K.

Rowling's Interviews on "60 Minutes" and "Blue Peter"

Spoken language is unique, as through it one can communicate not only

through words but through a plethora of bodily, tonal and facial cues that all
occur subconsciously. Through a verbal address, so much more expression can
be achieved, adding clarity and personality to the message. Equally, spoken
language can reveal clues and inconsistencies that contradict what a speaker
In this essay I will analyse two television interviews of J.K. Rowling, the
author of the wildly popular series of children's novels, Harry Potter. These
interviews being her appearances on the American news magazine program
"60 minutes", in 1999, and on the British children's television program "Blue
Peter", in 2007. Given the different styles of these shows, I expect vastly
different outcomes, yet both should inform and entertain their target
audiences. Given the nature of interviews, features such as personal
engagement and spontaneous language are common throughout. By analysing
language choice, linguistic and delivery techniques it is possible to highlight the
similarities and differences between these examples.
Language choice is critical in any circumstance, but within the context of
spoken language it can take on an entirely new light. For instance, in both
interviews she employs hedges. In the 60 minutes interview, Rowling says, “I
don’t think I was an unhappy child.” She uses the hedge “I don’t think” to avoid
creating a false impression. However, her high intonation when she says this
indicates to the audience that she herself is uncertain how to answer and given
her mixed feelings around her childhood, this is understandable.
Later in the interview, Rowling uses the hedge “a bit” in, “I was a bit
broke at the time.” The purpose of this is to downplay the fact that she was
financially unstable, something that she is ashamed of. Her passive-aggressive
tone and facial expression show that she is very uncomfortable with the topic,
and that she resents admitting that she was broke. The success of her books
brought with them enormous financial success, so admitting that she was once
poor is very hard for Rowling, and her natural response is to downplay it.
Similarly, in the Blue Peter interview, Rowling says, “I think you’ll
probably cry at this book.” In this instance the hedge, “probably,” is used to
soften the meaning of the sentence (i.e. that something bad will happen). She
is speaking to a child who may be easily upset so, like in the previous example,
she uses the hedge to downplay the meaning of the statement. She also
adopts a gentle tone and uses eye contact to engage with the child, and
further console her. However, there is also a promotional aspect. As this
interview occurs prior to the release of the final novel in the series, the hedge
creates implications to what might happen in Rowling’s next book. This drives
speculation and builds anticipation for the novel.
Again in the Blue Peter interview Rowling uses hedges. This time as “a
few” and “quite” in, “A few people are quite near.” Like the previous example,
the intent here is very much promotional. To avoid giving away spoilers for the
novel, the hedges are used to create obscurity, thus forcing speculation and
building anticipation. As she is in a room full of potential readers, she would
want this to convince them to buy her book when it comes out.
Another language choice Rowling makes in both interviews is the use of
humour. In the 60 minutes extract she says, “Yeah that sounds delightful, you
must’ve loved that.” In this case Rowling uses sarcasm, creating humour to
highlight how mindless she thinks adults can be. Her light tone, juxtaposed
with the violent imagery, “With a cricket bat,” complements the humour.
Rowling laughs to break the tension through humour in, “With a baby,
with a four month old baby.” As Rowling is addressing a difficult time, when
she was both on welfare and having to look after a young baby, she laughs at
the comedy of how her situation was almost comically bad. Her intent is to
make light of a desperate time in her life.
Likewise, Rowling jokes when she reasons, “Not because I’m horrible…”
in the Blue Peter extract. Because she has killed a character who many of the
kids in the audience may have grown attached to, some may claim that she is a
bad person. She uses humour when explaining the reasoning behind her choice
to convince them that she isn’t horrible, but also to refer to the serious subject
of death in a way that is suitable for the children.
Rowling also creates humour through impression in, “Hey says HARRY
POTTER and then that’s it.” She uses physical elements, such as an open
mouth, to assist in making the children laugh. Her intent here is to inform the
audience about the limited understanding of a child (not much younger than
they would be) in a way that they can understand and is engaging. She also
does this to lighten the tone before she addresses the more serious issue of
the peer pressure her eldest daughter faces. In every example of humour given
from either interview it is always in relation to a more serious topic. In the 60
Minutes extract, it relates to bullying, and living on welfare. In the Blue Peter
examples, it relates to death, and peer pressure.
Linguistic techniques are another crucial aspect to spoken language, and
both interviews feature a variety of these. For example, the use of short
sentences. In the 60 Minutes interview, Rowling states, “I wouldn’t go back if
you paid me. Ever.” The intent here is to express her certainty on the matter. It
illustrates her strong opinion regarding her childhood, and how she prefers
adult life. This is confirmed by a slow head shake from Rowling, an expression
of seriousness. This is reasonable, knowing that in her youth, Rowling was
bullied, and acknowledging the wealthy lifestyle she now lives in adulthood.
Another short sentence is employed by Rowling in, “I was yeah,” in
response to the interviewer’s question of, “You were on welfare?” She uses a
short sentence to show she is uncomfortable with the topic. The discourse
marker, “yeah,” reaffirms this, by marking the end of her answer, signalling
that she doesn’t want to talk about it any further.
Rowling also adopts short sentences in the Blue Peter interview, an
example being, “He is dead.” Her intent here is to make the statement
unequivocal. She doesn’t use the contraction “he’s” to show how emphatic she
is about this point. Because she is speaking to young children, she needs to
convey the importance and finality of the death in a way that they will realise.
“I hope so,” is a short sentence applied by Rowling to express her
excitement over the opening of the Harry Potter theme park. She tries to be
relatable to the children surrounding her, who would be similarly excited about
the theme park opening. Her smile, and excited vocal tone help her to convey
her enthusiasm to the children more effectively.
One more linguistic technique featured in both extracts is the use of
repetition. Rowling tells us, “I can remember yeah going home in tears, I can
remember not wearing the right clothes, you know,” in the 60 Minutes
interview. The repetition of “I can remember” informs the audience that these
experiences deeply affected her, and as a result they are very strong memories
that she still retains. Rowling was bullied as a child, which can be a very
traumatic experience. The repetition subtly informs the audience the large
extent to which this bullying occurred.
When the interviewer asks Rowling, “So this is one year?” she replies
with, “Err yeah, it’s one year.” She repeats the interviewer’s phrase instead of
giving a simple yes or no answer to inform the interviewer that she is listening.
She also nods, as well as mirroring the interviewers gesture to the page, to
show attentiveness.
In the Blue Peter extract, Rowling repeats the phrase “I should know” in,
“I should know, shouldn’t I? If anyone should know I should know.” Through
this repetition she reasserts her position as the one with ultimate creative
control over her novels, as well as making her answer to the previous question
definitive. Given her usual vagueness when addressing plot points in her
books, her decidedness her is uncommon, and so convinces the audience that
she is being honest and dismisses any further argument.
Rowling also uses repetition in, “My two year old doesn’t know that I
write Harry Potter and doesn’t know what Harry Potter is.” Rowling repeats
the name “Harry Potter” instead of using the pronouns “it” or “he” to
emphasise that her two year old wouldn’t understand what the franchise was
in the same way her audience of readers would. This helps the audience of
children to understand by encouraging them to put themselves in the mindset
of her two year old son.
The delivery is an element which exists only in spoken language.
Therefore, it is important to acknowledge it whenever analysing any interview.
Due to the unscripted nature of interviews, delivery techniques are often
employed subconsciously. For example, in both interviews Rowling makes false
starts. In the 60 Minutes extract Rowling says, “Not re- no, I don’t think I was.”
She uses “no” instead of “not really” to try and express assuredness. However,
her high intonation and the hedge “I don’t think” reveal that she is not at all
certain. This is because she is talking about her childhood, and given that she
was bullied, it is natural for her to have mixed opinions on it.
Again, Rowling makes a false start in, “As-you see what I mean.” She
does this to rephrase the explanation she is making to be clearer. As she is
explaining how she plans her books, something very intricate and personal to
her, it is natural that she would struggle. However, it is obvious she is more
comfortable talking about this than she would be about her childhood, as
evidenced by her faster pace and more confident tone.
False starts are also present in the Blue Peter interview, for example in,
“My…my four year old.” Here, Rowling repeats herself to consider how best to
represent her own child. Because she is addressing an audience not
significantly older than her own child, she wants to represent him in a way
they can appreciate or relate to.
Rowling also says, “It’s a, it’s a big weight for her to bear.” Her Rowling
once again makes a false start to consider how best to present the audience
with the serious issue of peer pressure. To reflect this seriousness, Rowling
uses a more subdued vocal tone. Because Rowling’s daughter is fourteen, the
young audience wouldn’t be able to relate to her as much as they likely haven’t
experienced issues associated with being a teenager like peer pressure before.
In every example of false starts I have given, the purpose is always to
find the most effective way to convey a complicated or unfamiliar issue or
Lastly, Rowling uses the delivery technique of pace. It is important to
note that Rowling’s pace of speech is generally very fast, so when it slows
down it bears much more impact. Rowling does slow her pace in the 60
Minutes interview when she says, “You didn’t pay the gas bill.” She does this to
emphasise the pressures an adult faces that a child wouldn’t, and to illustrate
the effect those pressures can have on people. She uses the direct personal
pronoun “you” to force the interviewer to empathise. Having been on welfare
herself, it is entirely possible that this example comes from personal
experience, and is thus much more meaningful to Rowling.
However, the pace is sped up whenever Rowling says, “Then I would
literally run to the nearest café.” She does this to reflect the urgency she felt
and to explain how little time she had for writing. The target demographic of
60 Minutes, of twenty five to fifty four year olds, would likely be parents
themselves and could relate to the brief moments of peace Rowling describes.
Similarly, in the Blue Peter interview Rowling also uses pace. Here, she
says, “It’s better for her [Rowling’s teenage daughter] not to know.” Rowling
slows her speech down to create a more sombre tone to help convey to the
young audience the severity of an issue they would be unfamiliar with: peer
pressure. Because the audience are young enough not to have faced this issue
yet, Rowling needs to properly convey its seriousness in a way that they would
Finally, Rowling uses a slow pace at, “I’m not gonna promise anything,”
to help convey how tired she is, and to let the audience down gently. Because
she says this in relation to what her next project will be, it informs them that
she will be taking a break from writing in a gentle but expressive way. As she is
talking to an audience of young children, it is natural that some may get upset
at the suspension of her writing, so she tries to break it to them gently.
In conclusion, Rowling adopts a plethora of different techniques, both
conscious and subconscious, in her spoken language for a range of different
effects. While these were two vastly different interviews in terms of format,
audience and question types, there can be similarities drawn. For example, in
my analysis of Rowling’s use of humour, I revealed that she always used it in
relation to a much darker or more serious topic. This is evidence to suggest
that, regardless of the situation, Rowling naturally employs certain techniques
to very effectively attain certain effects.