King of Talk, King of Listening: Backchannel Practices in ‘Tonight with Boy Abunda’

Authors: Franz Erika Arcamo (Mindanao State University, Iligan Institute of Technology, The Philippines)
Speakers: Franz Erika Arcamo
Strand: Language Ideologies
Session Type: General Session


While it is a well-established fact that listener activities, like backchannel, are an important feature of talk, there is still a dearth of linguistic studies on this area of interest (Gardner, 2001). This paper is focused on backchannels in the specific context of Filipino celebrity interviews. ‘Backchannel,’ coined by Yngve in 1970, refers to utterances by the listener that display “recipiency or listenership, including some clause-length utterances such as brief questions” (as cited in Gardner). This paper aimed to answer (a) the recurrent backchannel strategies by Boy Abunda in TWBA, (b) how these backchannels affect the interview structure, and (c) what his backchannels suggest about him as a host.

The data utilized are five “”Tonight with Boy Abunda”” (TWBA) interviews in 2020. They were analyzed using Harvey Sacks’ Conversation Analysis, centering on its three main elements: adjacency, turn-taking, and sequencing, as discussed by Tolson (2006). Pragmatics was also used in analyzing the sequential environments of Boy Abunda’s backchannels in order to understand how they function, especially since there are certain utterances that are polysemous.

The findings reveal that Boy Abunda uses all backchannels types as categorized by Gardner (2001), which are ‘continuers,’ ‘acknowledgements,’ ‘newsmarkers,’ ‘change-of-activity tokens,’ ‘assessments,’ ‘brief questions,’ and ‘collaborative completions.’ In addition, Boy Abunda also uses ‘repetitions,’ ‘reformulations,’ and ‘brief question for affirmation.’ Abunda’s backchannels affect the structure of the talk, in that they can be used as part of repairs during overlaps, help in transitioning to another topic, and prompt the interviewees for an extension of their turns, and therefore, have more substantial answers that appeal to the audience. Lastly, his abundant and affirmative use of this feature of talk portrays him to be a very accommodating and effective host eliciting ‘sellable’ stories of celebrities.

Keywords: Backchannel, Boy abunda, Conversation analysis, TWBA, Pragmatics.