Rhetoric – Analyzing Political Speeches
Rhetoric or rhetorical language is a persuasive form of oral language meant to influence listeners. It also refers to the set of rules used by a person to achieve the most effective and eloquent expression (Crystal, 1995). By using rhetoric one can speak not just effectively and convincingly but also with art and elegance. All effective speakers choose conventional rhetoric as a tool to convince their audience. The essentials of a good speech include
- the appropriateness of a speech for a particular occasion,
- using art and eloquence in the speech and
- using effective language to communicate and convince persuasively.
Although sometimes the word rhetoric or rhetorical are used in a derogatory or critical manner to suggest artificiality in speech where there is no real substance indicating no real material within ’empty rhetoric’, rhetorical speech is in itself powerful as a tool that can turn an ordinary speech into an interesting one (Crystal, 1995). There are many ways in which a particular text is made effective and the structuring of entire paragraphs and full texts is one of the fundamental ways by which the speaker captures the attention of the audience. However, the main emphasis of a good speech should be to convey a message or an important piece of information with the rhetorical elements coming in later.
Aims and Objectives
The aim of this essay is to examine the rhetorical features in powerful political speeches of leaders. In this instance we will analyze the speeches of George Bush, Tony Blair and Osama Bin Laden. The different features of rhetoric include the repetition of keywords, thoughts or phrases; enumeration of the main points and ideas; cumulation or adding words consecutively that sounds similar to give a rhythmic effect; allusions which are indirect references to situations outside the present; and adding rhetorical questions and using inclusive language.
Brief Outline and Aims, Reasons of Analysis
In this essay, we will first briefly discuss the features of rhetorical language, the special characteristics, the metaphors and analogies as well as the rhythmic nature of speech used. Rhetorical language implies a kind of speech that has art, elegance, is persuasive and convincing to listeners with both style and content that make such speech impressive and unforgettable. Figurative language can be comprised of figures of speech that are rhetorical figures or schemes which are different from normal language mainly in order of words or syntax .
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Our aims, objectives and reasons of analysis are mainly a theoretical interest in the comparative effectiveness of speeches by Bush, Blair and Bin Laden. The use of rhetoric is seen in all the speeches as we will discuss and for every speech we will consider the rhetorical features prominent and how they may have been effective in producing an impact on the audience.
Analysis of speeches
A register is a style produced by the context and this recognizable style can be an informal register, a medical register or a scientific register and so on (Crystal, 1995). Texts can be categories on the basis of contexts and refer to certain specific elements in a situation that make it unique.
The first speech by Osama Bin Laden, begins with a rhythmic ‘Oppression will only go against the oppressors’. The context is the speech against America and its policies, so the register is primarily political. Contextual features include Osama and his group’s ideology, as well as reveal the broader relationship between terrorist organizations and America as a country. Bin Laden’s speech itself is very dramatic.
The second speech is by George Bush which is more emphatic towards the end rather than at the beginning and ends with Bush’s emphatic assertion, ‘My fellow citizens, the dangers to our country and the world will be overcome. ….We will bring freedom to others and we will prevail’. The context of the speech is George’s bush address to the people of America giving a justificatory explanation on why the attack on Iraq was a necessity and how America will definitely come out victorious. The register here is also political, formal and justificatory. Although the speech itself is not too dramatic, the last few lines have emphatic and persuasive qualities. Bush’s ideology do not seem to be as conspicuous in this speech as Osama Bin Laden’s speech but reflects the effects of time and place as the situation is set in America and the speech is addressed at times which are tense and testing for the American people.
The third speech is by Tony Blair, the Prime Minister of Britain is marked by neither dramatic effects in the beginning or the end but by a clear smooth and coherent justification of why military action in Iraq was a necessity. The one emphatic paragraph that Blair used seems to be ‘ So our choice is clear: back down and leave Saddam hugely strengthened; or proceed to disarm him by force. Retreat might give us a moment of respite but years of repentance at our weakness would I believe follow’. The last sentence has an especially rhyming quality although the context and register represent an ideology and relationships of the government and the people in a unique way. The timing and place of the speech is also just before the war, quite different from Osama Bin Laden’s speech that was delivered after the impact of war has been completely felt.
An important aspect of register or style of writing to appeal a particular audience and purpose is lexis that involves study and use of words, especially words that are relevant to enhance the style of a text (Thorne, 1997). Lexical features are not about word’s meanings but about formal features of words.
In the first speech by Bin Laden he says, ‘”These schemes are paid for in our blood and land, and your blood and economy’. The form of this sentence seems to be different from the rest as it there’s a repetition of certain words giving the sentence an emphatic effect. Considering the lexical features of Bin Laden’s speech, that marks the ‘style of speech’ there are several indications of a personalized style. The use of ‘God bless them, God willing’ and such phrases are unique to the lexical structure giving Laden’s speech a distinct form and shape as is seen in this example. “You have to know that we are counting our dead, may God bless them….our sons will take our place”. Here nearly every sentence has some lexical cohesion related to the word ‘God’
In the second speech by George Bush, he begins with the following , ‘My fellow citizens, at this hour, American and coalition forces …defend the world from grave danger’. This sentence seems to have a unique form as phrases like ‘my fellow citizens’, ‘at this hour’ seem to show certain amount of cohesion giving the speech an emphatic style to begin with. Bush further asserts, ‘To all the men and women of the United States Armed Forces …That trust is well placed’. The phrases ‘peace of a troubled world’ or ‘hopes of an oppressed people’ seem to have been used to give an enhanced effect to the form of the sentence that can appeal to an educated and knowledgeable public. The lexical structure of the sentence ‘Our nation enters this conflict reluctantly — yet, our purpose is sure’ is also marked by a special form where the form rather than the meaning gains importance.
The third speech by Blair is marked by several emphatic forms and lexical structures. The sentence ‘Some say if we act, we become a target. The truth is, all nations are targets’. Here phrases like, ‘if we act’, ‘the truth is’ show coherent forms and styles. Another sentence ‘ But these challenges and others that confront us – poverty, the environment, the ravages of disease – require a world of order and stability. Dictators like Saddam, terrorist groups like Al Qaeda threaten the very existence of such a world’ show several lexical features as in phrases like ‘ravages of disease’, ‘very existence’ ‘world of order’ where emphasis and style make Blair’s speech pretty effective.
Grammar involves a set of rules that allows for words to be put into a sentence or a form without confusion of meaning (Thorne, 1997). It is proper grammar that makes meanings of sentences unambiguous.
In the first case, Bin Laden uses his characteristic grammatical touches with “Nations are nothing without ethics and morals. If these are gone, the nations are gone. Bush has sent your sons into the lion’s den, to slaughter and be slaughtered, ….concealing the facts’. By lion’s den, Laden seems to be alluding to Saddam Hussein although the use of grammar here is not very clear. Maybe a plural of the word lion, could have been more unambiguous. The use of another sentence seems to draw on a ‘one-to many’ relation between the American people and their leaders. Laden says, “It shows you are selling your lives for the lives of others. And you are spilling your blood to swell …..And the greatest folly in life is to sell your life for the lives of others’. Here also the use of singular nouns in relations to plurals gives the speech a certain amount of emphatic quality.
Bush’s speech seems to be more simplistic without complicated grammatical features although the use of grammar is slightly different and gives his speech a distinct style without any obvious ambiguity. He says, ‘We come to Iraq with respect for its citizens, …restore control of that country to its own people’. Although a certain change of the grammar is seen here as he calls Iraq ‘its’ and America ‘her’ with his last sentence ‘ May God bless our country and all who defend her’. Maybe a trace of patriotism in one’s own country is seen here and the perception of Iraq as a ‘foreign’ country is evident in Bush’s speech revealed by a different grammatical approach to America and Iraq.
Blair’ speech seem to have a strong contextual aspect somehow merging context and grammar in a peculiar way. The sentence, ‘I know this course of action has produced deep divisions of opinion in our country. But I know also the British people will now be united in sending our armed forces our thoughts and prayers. They are the finest in the world and their families and all of Britain can have great pride in them’. These sentences are marked by grammar with a particular purpose, to evoke a sense of national pride and achievement. The use of plurals and British people as a whole is a deliberate attempt to bring in ideas and motives of a national patriotic feeling. This is also emphasized in the last sentence when Blair says, ‘As so often before, on the courage and determination of British men and women, serving our country, the fate of many nations rests’. Here also the use of grammar is deliberate to give a sense of unity and purpose to British ambitions of attacking Iraq.
Metaphorical & Rhetorical language
Metaphors and emphatic rhetoric and persuasive elements are seen in all these speeches (also in Beard, 2000).
In the speech by Laden, the first sentence he begins with ‘Oppression will only go against the oppressors’ is highly rhetorical and has a dramatic and almost poetic and rhyming effect. This is followed by another rhetorical sentence, ‘Peace be upon those who follow the righteous path’. Another such excellent use of rhetoric to produce a dramatic effect is “Nations are nothing without ethics and morals. If these are gone, the nations are gone’. A queer mix of rhetoric and metaphorical elements is seen in “But God sent him to Baghdad, the seat of the Caliphate, the homeland of people who prefer death to honey’. Here ‘honey’ has been used metaphorically as blood is used in the sentence ‘The blood of the children of Vietnam, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq is still dripping from their teeth’. Laden tends to use strong poetic and rhetorical phrases with analogies and metaphors more than that of Bush or Blair. The sentence ‘ “Now you are like the knight who was trying to protect people from the Sword of Malik, and ended up begging someone to protect him’ has a dramatic style to it.
Bush’s speech has certain rhetorical features although more than Blair and less than that of Bin Laden. He says assertively, ‘Now that conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force. And I assure you, this will not be a campaign of half measures, and we will accept no outcome but victory’. These sentences have strong artistic and dramatic features. The use of metaphors in Bush’s speech is not quite conspicuous. His speech ends with a strong rhetorical note, ‘My fellow citizens, the dangers to our country …God bless our country and all who defend her’.
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The speech by Blair seems to be the least complicated and more straightforward although the use of certain dramatic and poetic effects is seen. One example is, ‘But this new world faces a new threat: of disorder and chaos born either of brutal states like Iraq, armed with weapons of mass destruction; or of extreme terrorist groups. Both hate our way of life, our freedom, our democracy’. Another such example is ‘America didn’t attack Al Qaida. They attacked America’. The metaphor of Britain that cannot go in hiding is used as ‘Britain has never been a nation to hide at the back’. The rhetorical elegance is also obvious in Blair’s speech where he says, ‘So our choice is clear: back down and leave Saddam hugely strengthened; or proceed to disarm him by force. Retreat might give us a moment of respite but years of repentance at our weakness would I believe follow’ and in another very effective and well-formed sentence, ‘But this new world faces a new threat: of disorder and chaos ….Both hate our way of life, our freedom, our democracy’. The use of the words, ‘new world’ and ‘brutal states’ seems to have metaphorical features and aids in making the speech quite effective.
According to our investigation into the grammatical, lexical and rhetorical features of the three speeches we have analyzed here, Bin Laden’s speech is marked by a use of too many metaphors, very strong rhetoric and dramatic or poetic effects. The rhythm and rhyming effects are exaggerated. Laden’s use of grammar also has certain ambiguity and the speech seems to be less spontaneous and more ‘arty’. As far as register or contextual features are concerned, Bin Laden’s speech is less effective with lower directionality and contextual focus.
Bush’s speech has certain strong rhetorical elements but due to the lack of metaphors or unique grammatical style or rhyming effects, comes out as less convincing with some deliberate rhyming effects added to enhance effectiveness. Content and context are not too forceful here and using strong words to identify a whole nation is also not seen to have been effective.
Blair’s speech seems to be the most balanced of all the speeches here. It has a clear, coherent style with good clarity of content and the context or register has come out very well including the British people as a nation’s real identity. The speech has the right amount of metaphors and rhetoric with facts ad content that has made it an interesting speech to listeners. The arguments are cogent, the form and style and lexical features are effective and there is a certain amount of lexical cohesion that makes the speech elegant and effective.
In this essay we have analyzed three important speeches justifying or criticizing the war on Iraq and analyzing the effectiveness, elegance and us of rhetoric in the speeches, we conclude that although using rhetoric is good for a speech, using too much of it as seen in Bin Laden’s speech can make it sound like a lack of content and more of rhetoric. Bush speech is marked by the use of very little rhetoric and metaphor although Blair’s speech seem to have struck the right kind of balance.
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