The Way Barack Obama Makes Use of Rhetoric Language


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Barack Hussein Obama II, the first ever African American president, was born on August 4 1961 in Honolulu, Hawaii. A world renowned figure who transitioned from a “nobody” back in 2000 into proclaimed “Best President of Americans’ lifetime”. No one could have known that the 17 minutes Obama spent delivering the Democratic National Convention Keynote speech was what rose him to fame and eventually paved his way into the White House. It is fair to say that his articulate use of language in his speeches was a huge part in sending across the incredibly message which undoubtedly touched the hearts of millions of Americans and people around the world.

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This goes to show the level of impact his words had which was what allowed him to beat the odds in many tough situations he and his country faced in his career. Before and throughout his presidency, his convincing voice was consistently maintained with the help of persuasion techniques, “a psychological phenomenon which is deeply connected to language”. Ultimately, his linguistic talents played a huge part in enabling him to make people relate to his life situations and believe that they too, can make a change in their lives.

Like mentioned above, one of Barack Obama’s first and most inspirational speeches is the Democratic National Convention Keynote speech he presented in 2004. He delved into his family background, rejected political polarization and expressed his gratitude towards America for all the opportunities he received which he couldn’t gotten anywhere else in the world. The response after his address completely turned his life around. Just overnight, his status within the Democratic Party was further elevated as well as turning his reissued memoir into an all-time bestseller. The 2297 significant words he uttered during his national debut was written by his own hand filled with anecdotes and his life-long experiences in order to keep it personal and that was obviously, the right decision.

Barack Obama opens his speech by saying “On behalf of the great state of Illinois, crossroads of a nation, land of Lincoln, let me express my deep gratitude for the privilege of addressing this convention”. The use of the metaphor “crossroads of a nation” signifies the importance of the busy and commercial center through the theme of Patriotism. Obama is adding a lot to his credibility, integrity, and appeal to authority by mentioning about the great state of Illinois. By mentioning “Land of Lincoln”, it also adds authority to his speech which helps him to justify his point.

Abraham Lincoln was a very respected former president and a great hero of USA. The audience will feel more attached, in his favor due to the emotional force and accept him the delegate of the state of Illinois. He uses ethos as it makes him credible which will help the audience to take the propositions as acceptable and true. The use of the word “let” shows his politeness and gives the audience a sense of authority which shows that Obama respects them. Obama starts talking about his father who “was a foreign student, born and raised in a small village in Kenya. He grew up herding goats, went to school in a tin-roof shack. his father — my grandfather — was a cook, a domestic servant to the British.” This shows how humble Obama is and his willingness to introduce his origin which furthermore, enhances his integrity and credibility. Obama is aware of his unlikely success in his political career and talks about the struggles of his ancestors “But my grandfather had larger dreams for his son. Through hard work and perseverance my father got a scholarship to study in a magical place, America, that shone as a beacon of freedom and opportunity to so many who had come before. Her father worked on oil rigs and farms through most of the Depression. The day after Pearl Harbor my grandfather signed up for duty; joined Patton’s army, marched across Europe.” Obama’s grandparents and parents worked hard and dreamed of a successful future of their children. The word “magical” highlights the idea American dream and the land of opportunities of how anybody can become successful. The metaphor of “a beacon” is really effective as it allows the allusion to the statue of liberty and the audience’s idea of America being a shining light compared to the world which shows that it is a perfect country. There is a contrast between the basic Kenyan life and life in America helps to illustrate how America is a greater country. Obama later on mentioned his “grandfather signed up for duty; joined army, marched across Europe”, “bought a house through F.H.A., and later moved we stall the way to Hawaii in search of opportunity”. This shows patriotism of his grandfather of how he was proud and willing to fight for the sake of America. Buying a house through Federal Housing Authority shows the honest and fair struggle of his family for the betterment of their future. The use of the All-American history sets the scene to represent himself as the “American Dream” and shows no uncertainty about his heritage. His parents “would give me an African name, Barack, or “blessed,” believing that in a tolerant America, your name is no barrier to success.” This gives the listeners positive feelings to be in favor of Obama. By talking about his family history, the audience develop that Obama is a child from a family whose perseverance, honesty of purpose and loyalty to the state is time-tested. He represents the protector of moral and social values. This furthermore, increases the credibility of Obama’s character. Barack Obama uses four processes with two ellipted clauses “I stand here today, grateful for the diversity of my heritage, aware that my parents‟ dreams live on in my precious daughters”. This sentence starts with the material process “stand”, mental process “grateful” and “grateful for the diversity of my heritage” shows the circumstance of cause as Obama shows his gratitude to diverse heritage. “Aware” is the mental process that has ellipted first person singular pronoun subject. “Live on” is the last process, material process. He refrains from using first person singular pronoun with the second and third process sentence as audience could have felt separation from Obama. The ellipted subjects helped to reduce the likelihood of creating picture of an egocentric Obama in their minds. He successfully talks about his successes of representing Illinois and being appreciative of his parenting and his ambitions for his daughters. He portrays all of that by the use of a variety of expressions created by ellipted subjects.

Moreover, these ellipted subjects minimize the possibility of creating an egoistic image of Obama in the audience’s minds. So, within just two-line sentence Obama proudly speaks of his successes as the representative of the great state of Illinois, his feeling of being proud over his parentage, and his own ambitions for his daughters.. Barack Obama refers to the larger American story, foreshadowing that it could possibly bring him to the White House “I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that, in no other country on earth, is my story even possible”. Obama shows his relation with America and the audience can identify his spot within them. He uses a mental physiological aspect by mentioning that he “owe a debt”. This sense of obligation allows the reader to feel that Obama is really grateful and modest. Obama’s “story” would have been impossible in any other country highlights his belief in the justice and strong political structure of America. In the next sentence, Obama talks about USA as a nation “Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation, not because of the height of our sky-scrapers, or the power of our military, or the size of our economy”. “Tonight” is a really uncomplicated word which serves to focus on the moment. Obama uses contrast to produce a Q&A dilemma that will help to keep the audience’s attention to hear the revelation of USA. Obama chooses to be passive “Our pride is based on a very simple premise, summed up in a declaration made over two hundred years ago, We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The phrase “our pride” shows America’s pride combined as country -unity which creates a sense of superiority and positive vibes to the audience. The passive structure increases the impact of the last three sentences Obama quoted from the Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, gives a feeling of pride and that everyone are equal to each other.

In the next part of his speech, Obama uses the emotional force of the audience in favor of the speaker. He carefully illustrates pictures in very brief clauses. It is human nature that he wants to protect the next upcoming generation and it is the dream of every human being that they want to see their child flourishing and joyful “a faith – a faith in simple dreams, an insistence on small miracles; that we can tuck in our children at night and know that they are fed and clothed and safe from harm”. Obama uses imagery to explain the satisfied, fed, and safe children and imagery of Utopia where there is a liberty of expression both in writing and saying. There is no external social hindrance to what we think and want to do, no fear of bribe and retribution in political process. Note that Obama also use humor by mentioning the election in 2000s in Florida where there was a recount. Obama uses mental imagery by talking about the plight, wishes and hopes of the workers of Galesburg, Illinois “more work to do for the workers I met in Galesburg, Illinois, who are losing their union jobs at the Maytag plant that’s moving to Mexico, and now are having to compete with their own children for jobs that pay seven bucks an hour;”. The loss of their jobs creates an imagery of an old man competing for seven bucks an hour with his own children, showing a mental image and visualizing the mental pain of the senior workers. Furthermore, Obama talks about “more to do for the father that I met who was losing his job and choking back the tears, wondering how he would pay 4500 dollars a month for the drugs his son needs without the health benefits that he counted on; more to do for the young woman in East St. Louis, and thousands more like her, who has the grades, has the drive, has the will, but doesn’t have the money to go to college.” By mentioning a jobless man who has to pay $4500 a month for the drugs his son needs, and a woman who has a good academic record and a desire to study more but doesn’t have the money, will evoke audience’s emotions and they will feel to that they want to stand by his side. Barack Obama uses anecdote by talking about his young self when he a young man “Shamus” in Veterans of Foreign Wars- one of the world’s largest military organization named. This helps to create bond to the message and alters the pace of the speech. By mentioning the name of the man he met helps to increase reliability of his account. Obama himself asks a rhetorical question the audience “are we serving Shamus as well as he is serving us?” This gets the audience thinking, it allows sufficient for people to think of the answer. He continues and mentions about “900 men and women — sons and daughters, husbands and wives, friends and neighbors who won’t be returning to their own hometowns”. The audience is able to recall that war is taking away their relations forever. This strengthens Obama’s antiwar agenda. Obama always like to seek permission from the audience “Now let me be clear”. The verb “let” gives the audience a feeling of importance and privilege. In the next sentence, Obama claims that “We have real enemies in the world”, utilizes English syntax of Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Using have with the compliment and subject shows us that material process of event was used. It is used with the situation of spatial place which deals with the idea of the entire world. By using material process, it gives the audience a solid idea of the presence of enemies. Obama makes use of transitivity which is really thoughtful as he is attempting to communicate to the listeners that he is conscious of the existence of enemies of USA. He is showing them respect.

The following clauses show his comment to a great extent: “These enemies must be found. They must be pursued and they must be defeated”. They all have a passive tone. “Find”, “pursue” and “defeat” are all material processes of action. Transitiveness shows that Obama’s brain is constant with his utterance and thoughts. All these clauses are identical in the group of mental process, affection. By being consistent in choosing the same group of the material and mental processes tells that he is string and certain in his view that the enemies of USA must defiantly be demolished. Obama talks about John Kerry who is a candidate for the American President by using another constant set of processes “John Kerry knows this. And just as Lieutenant Kerry did not hesitate to risk his life to protect the men who served with him in Vietnam, President Kerry will not hesitate one moment to use our military might to keep America safe and secure”. “know” and “hesitate” are both mental process of cognition. Obama uses this technique as President Kerry and Lieutenant Kerry are the same person. By using the same mental processes for a future and past, this creates an effect that Obama is trustworthy and his previous actions are admirable and praiseworthy, this means that his future action would also be too. He uses infinitives which is a type of non-finite verb such as “to use” “to risk”, to keep and “to protect”. They are material processes of action and helps to make reference to John Kerry as someone who takes immediate action and make fast decisions. Obama’s use of consistent group of processes helps to portray Kerry’s reliable character. Obama uses all the techniques of persuasion, Pathos, Logos and Ethos. Even though the speech address national unity. The main motive was to persuade the audience to be in favor for John Kerry who will run for president in 2004. This speech intends to help him in the election campaign. The speech convinces the audience logically with the idea of John Kerry as the President of USA. Obama uses many clauses and one sentence in the last part of his speech. He uses one six-word sentence of blessings near the end “Tonight, if you feel the same energy I do, the same urgency I do, the same passion I do, the same hopefulness that I do — if we do what we must do, then I have no doubts that all across the country, from Florida to Oregon, from Washington to Maine, the people will rise up in November and John Kerry will be sworn in as President, and John Edwards will be sworn in as Vice President, and this country will reclaim its promise, and out of this long political darkness, a brighter day will come. Thank you and God bless you”. Obama uses a lot of repetition he uses mental process of affection in the first 4 clauses. “Feel” is ellipted but it is not used here. “I do” is used with an ellipted “as”, but it can also be used as “as I do”. “Do” which is a verb allows the audience and speaker to compare. Almost all of the remaining of the clauses use one or the other group of the material process. “Rise up” and “swear in” are both material processes of action. “Come” is the material process of event. “Have” is the material process of event “then I have no doubt … a brighter day will come”. “Bless” is the mental process of action and “Reclaim” is the verbal process since “this country” is the participator and “its promise” is also the participator of the process. The last section of the speech opens with and closes with mental clauses of affection. It helps to change the emotions of the audience to show their sympathy positively of Obama’s views. By using a lot of material clauses, it helps to physically motivate the listeners to vote for John Kerry. The material process of action “swear in” creates an image of the workplace of the president of USA who is Kerry. The spinning use of language obliges the audience be in favor of Obama in the next elections. Obama does not use the word vote although he uses material, physiological and verbal clauses strongly to ask them to vote for Kerry. Obama utilizes parallel structures “If there is a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child. If there is a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for their prescription drugs, and having to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandparent. If there’s an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.” This parallel structure creates mental images in the audience’s mind. The image of the child in Chicago who cannot read, the thought of the senior citizen who can’t afford to pay for her prescriptions and the image of an Arab-American family who is being penalized by the executives of USA without due legal process- ‘The principle that an individual cannot be deprived of life, liberty, or property without appropriate legal procedures and safeguards’, are rhetoric devices which shows the emotional feelings of affirmative bonding with Obama. By showing concern for every citizen, the audience feels emotionally attached to Obama. Obama gives the audience an element of hope. Obama speaks in the inspiring rhetoric of hope which is the hope that Americans and America as a country, America as the land of courageous people, ordinary people and independent people, are responsible for each other’s’ dream. By using the rhetoric of hope, the audience will feel in favor of Obama. Throughout the speech, Obama uses personal pronoun such as “I” and “we”. By using “we”, it gives an insight into the context of how Obama wants to be looked at and analyzed by the audience. The use of the first person singular pronoun “I” shows personal contribution of Obama in a matter under discussion and his vanity. It shows Obama as a self-important and self-obsessed person. When Obama talks about something good, he uses this pronoun to take the whole credit.

The plural pronoun “we” shows responsibility is shared during more dubious or terrible state of affairs. Nonetheless, the distance between the audience and Obama the speaker is kept to the minimum by using the plural pronoun “we”, it helps to build rapport. Furthermore, it gives a sense of inclusiveness which is the feeling that the audience and speaker are not poles apart and are the same being. This feeling gives a sense of oblivious pride to the listeners. The audience will start to admire and be in Obama’s idea. This also helps to fortify ethos.


Obama uses all aspects of the persuasive language Ethos, Lagos and Pathos in this speech frequently. This helps to persuade and motivate the audience’s emotional side. The material process of action is used the most frequent in this speech. Another technique he used is mental Language in process of affection and relational process. Obama uses circumstance of temporal location, circumstance of spatial location, and circumstance of cause. By using material processes often, it helps to motivate the audience to physically congregate around him and support his ideas. Furthermore, Obama uses the mental processes of affection to strike to the element of Pathos so that the audience will lean towards and be in favor of him.

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