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“We have a big crowd”: The different referents of the first-person plural in U.S. presidential candidates’ talk on entertainment-political interviews

During U.S. presidential elections, today, interviews at late-night talk shows are commonplace. As political and entertainment discourse co-occur in this type of communication, we refer to this genre as the Entertainment-Political Interview (EPI). Yet, research is lacking in clarifying how candidates, through their talk, appeal to their audience on these shows to realize their political goals. In this study, the different extralinguistic referents for the first-person plural (i.e. we, us, our) are investigated in order to understand which groups are referred to by U.S. presidential candidates, how these groups are presented and how this positions the candidate with respect to their audience in order to construct a discursive presentation of the world. Namely, even as we is a deictic term produced by a speaker, the referent can still be any group of people including the speaker. Investigating these genre-specific foundational group memberships is essential to understand this mode of political discourse as the discursive world projected through the talk serves as the context of interpretation for the audience. To study possible referents of we in EPIs, we use the taxonomy developed by Dori-Hacohen (2014) as a starting point, as it classifies different types of we based on the exclusivity of the group referred to (i.e. everyone on earth (humanity we), a group including the speaker and hearer (general we), a group including the speaker but not the hearer (social delimited we), and a group just consisting of the speaker and hearer (conversation we)). The genre-specific referents of we are U.S. society (general we), desirable social groups and political teams (social delimited we).