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English Language & Linguistics

English Language



Rhetoric is the study of effective speaking and writing.

"That form of speaking which has the intention of making an impact upon, persuading, or influencing a public audience."

Rhetorical devices are frequently used consciously in advertising and in public speeches to create an effect.

Rhetoric may be used to present a case in the most effective way, showing verbal dexterity. The danger of rhetoric, with its intention to persuade, is that the speaker may "stretch" the truth and effectively present a worthless or immoral cause.

Examples of Rhetorical Devices

  • Onomatopoeia (sounds suggest meaning)
  • Metaphor (a thing is spoken of as being that which it only resembles)
  • Syllogism (a logical argument in three parts - two premises and a conclusion which folows necessarily from them)
  • Irony (deliberate use of words to mean the opposite of their literal meaning)
  • Allegory (a symbolic narrative)
  • Isocolon (the use of clauses or phrases of equal length)
  • Antithesis (words balanced in contrast)
  • Anaphora (repetition of a word at the beginning of consecutive sentences)
  • Hyperbole (exaggeration)

Two basic principles of Socrates:

1. The orator should offer a preliminary definition of the nature of his topic
2. He should divide his subject into its component parts.

The principles of Cicero:

The orator ...
• must first hit upon what to say;
• then manage and marshal his discoveries, not merely in an orderly fashion but with a discriminating eye for the exact weight of each argument;
• next go on to array them in the adornments of style;
• after that guard them in his memory;
• and in the end deliver them with effect and charm."

The Skills of Rhetoric

1. ETHOS or proof deriving from the character of the speaker himself.
the tone of the speech should establish the speaker's virtue and moral worth.
2. PATHOS The emotions induced in the audience. the audience begins to feel that the speaker must be right and is won over to his side.
3. LOGICAL PROOF Demonstration of the case by means of argument such as syllogisms, examples and maxims.

1. INTRODUCTION to put the audience in the right frame of mind eg "Friends, Romans and countrymen..."
2. NARRATION a short statement of the facts of the case
3. PROPOSITION the narrator states succinctly the facts of the case.
4. DIVISION the main headings under which the subject will be treated.
5. PROOF the orator marshals all the arguments on his side of the case, giving points in ascending order of importance leading to a climax. This is the core of the argument.
6. REFUTATION the orator attempts to answer or discredit the arguments advanced against him.

a. summing up
b. amplification - an emphatic statement of the speaker's position, often invoking "commonplaces" to move the audience to indignation or enthusiasm.
c. an appeal to the audience's tender feelings

The speech should appear unpremeditated and should whenever possible be delivered from memory

Use the appropriate gestures and facial expressions - the wagging finger of exhortation, the arms and hands spread wide in appeal...
The tone of voice may be coversational, intimate or energetic according to subject matter, and given with varied amplification

1. PURITY and correctness of language
2. CLARITY and intelligibility
3. DECORUM and appropriateness
4. ORNAMENT, figures of speech, metaphors, prose rhythm

Interrogatio - a question which requires no answer because it expresses a truth which cannot be denied.
Rogatio - a question to which we immediately supply our own answer
Quaesitio - a string of questions uttered in rapid succession for the sake of emotional emphasis
Percontatio - an enquiry in a tone of bewilderment or amazement and allowing no satisfactory or easy reply.

Examples of Rhetoric in practice

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Extract from John F Kennedy's Inaugural Address

Extracts from Churchill's speeches

Kennedy's Announcement of the Space Race

Kennedy's other speeches (full text and sound files)

President Nixon's Resignation Speech

Martin Luther King's speeches

Mark Antony's speech at the Capitol (Shakespeare's Julius Caesar)

President George W Bush after the bombing of the Trade Towers

President Bush's Afghanistan speech

Tony Blair's Afghanistan speech

Rhetoric is evident in advertising and in propaganda. See "The Fatherly Leader ..."

Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

Lieutenant-Colonel Tim Collins, second Gulf War 2003

Saddam Hussein second Gulf war 24.03.03

Ariel Sharon's Gaza Strip speech 15.08.05

Barack Obama's Victory Speech Nov 6th 2008 Transcript

Barack Obama's Inaugural Address Jan 20th 2009 Transcript




American Rhetoric