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Stylistic Analysis of Obama’s Inaugural Speech

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    Higher level English learners always pay attention to English public speech, especially those inaugural speeches. They take them as fine literary efforts and good analysis material. This paper tries to give an analysis of Obama’s inaugural speech from stylistic perspective, in order to help to better appreciate Obama’s presentation skills. Keywords: stylistics, syntactic, lexics, rhetoric Barack Hussein Obama was elected to be the forty-fourth president of America in November, 2008. His inaugural speech didn’t have very beautiful words, but it set up from people psychology and gave a general conclusion of present world.

    Therefore, his speech won many people’s support and trust with its strong infection and dramatically inspired American’s feelings and confidence. Here we try to give a stylistic analysis on Obama’s inaugural speech from lexical, syntactic and rhetoric levels, to reveals its style characteristics. 1. Lexical level Word is the basic grammar unit. Different styles require using different words. Meanwhile the different stylistic colorings of the words also determine their different applicable scope. Here we would analyze Obama’s speech from two aspects in the lexical level.

    A. Word structure According to M. A. K. Halliday’s concept of register, word structure is seriously affected by the mode of discourse, the tenor of discourse, the relationship between speaker and listeners, the field of discourse and what being said. The length of a word often has a close relationship with the formality of the text. In English, we often call those words containing six or above six letters, or three or above three syllables as BIG WORD. Generally an essay could show its formality by using a certain number of big words.

    In Obama’s inaugural speech, the whole text has 2395 words while the number of big words is 664, which make up 27. 7% of the total. However, the proportion of big word in daily language is often less than 20%. So relatively, the inauguration speeches used more formal words and their word structure is more complex. This shows up in two aspects: Firstly, in inaugural speech, presidents always use formal language. This not only to show stability but also would make the audience feel speaker is serious in politics.

    So in Obama’s inaugural speech, there are such formal words: bestow,sacrifice,service,generosity,oath,prosperity,forebear,document and so on. Secondly, inaugural speech always has many derivational words. Such words would establish more complex vocabulary internal structure and can make speech more formal. In Obama’s speech, there are also such words: cooperation,transition,recrimination,growth,imagination,retirement. B. The use of person In public speech, the first person is most common. This is because the first person would help speaker to state his viewpoint and strike a chord with his listeners.

    In Obama’s speech, the first person plural pronoun and its variant used for 83 times, such as out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope. The use of first person has pulled speaker closer with the audience, putting the both in the same position. Thereby the speech would more likely to be accepted and to arouse Americans’ solidarity patriotic feeling. For instance, in Obama’s speech there is such sentence: And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can. . Syntactical level Generally speaking, sentence is often seemed as the orderly arrangement of words. Based on the above analyses, we can deduce that Obama’s inaugural speech has its own feature in syntactical level. A. The length of sentence The length of sentence depends on the style type of the text.

    In Obama’s inaugural speech, there are 107 sentences, 2395 words. Among them, there are 21 sentences that include 1-9 words, accounting for 19. 6% of the total; 33 sentences that include 10-19 words, accounting for 30. 8%; 28 sentences that include 20-29 words, accounting for26. %; 13 sentences that include 30-39 words, accounting for 12. 1%; 12 sentences that include more than 40 words, accounting for 11. 2%. The data shows that Obama prefer to use short and long sentences in his inaugural speech. Short sentence can not only make his speech more vivid and exciting, but also make his expression more powerful. Meanwhile, long sentence can express ideas more clearly. Thus in Obama’s alternate use of the short and long sentence make his inaugural speech sounds neither too single nor too rigmarole. B.

    The use of imperative sentence and interrogative sentence In Obama’s inaugural speech, most sentences are declarative sentences. but imperative sentences and interrogative sentences are also widely used here. For example: “…let us ask ourselves —if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made? ” Imperative sentences are used to make requests or call for action. They are direct and powerful.

    Interrogative sentences always make people think and resonate with the speaker. The vivid usage of such sentences made Obama’s inaugural speech more incited. 3. Rhetorical level For any style of text, it’s very important to beautify the language and the use of rhetorical devices is one of the most effective way to do this. For public speech, strong infection and agitation are necessary and important. Especially in inaugural speech, the aim of the speaker is to win support and trust, so they have to use rhetorical devices to gain desired results.

    Here in Obama’s inaugural speech, there are also many rhetorical devices: A. Parallelism Parallelism means giving two or more parts of the sentences a similar form so as to give the whole a definite pattern. It facilitates to express strong feeling, highlight the emphasis part and make the language more powerful. At the same time, because of it own syntactic feature, using parallelism can enhance the aesthetics of rhymes of the language. In Obama’s speech, he used many parallelisms here. e. g. : (1)This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

    This is the source of our confidence… This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed… (2)I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. (3) At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents. (4) For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

    For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth. For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn. From the above examples we can see that parallelism could enhance the coherence of the language and illustrate speaker’s point layer upon layer successively. B. Climax Climax means when we arrange the clauses of a sentence, we should based on some principle such as ascending to achieve forcefulness. It shows the feature of the foregrounding of public speech.

    According to climax, we should use appropriate words to give an increasing layer in semantics to win a better effect. Here we also can see Obama’s flexible use of climax in his inaugural speech. e. g. (1) The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift. (2) Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year? (3) …that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world. C.

    Repetition Repetition is the device that using the same words or sentences in one language segment intentionally. It can highlight some strong feeling to leave a deep impression to the audience. e. g. : (1) Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met. (2)…the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness. 3) Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. (4) We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost.

    We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All these above sentences are examples of repetition in Obama’s inaugural speech. The repetition of words can help to establish a certain rhythm in a structure. Obama used such repetition to express his strong feeling, letting listeners know that the new government has the confidence to resolve all these hard problems before Americans.

    D. Contrast) Contrast is the way to give comparison between two opposite concepts or things, or between two opposite aspects of one thing. Obama used sharp contrasts in his inaugural speech to express his idea more vivid and clearly. e. g. : (1) And so to all other people and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: … (2) Know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. 3) For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. In conclusion, Obama’s inaugural speech has the general features of inaugural speech, such as vivid words, flexible syntax and skillful rhetorics. Besides Obama’s individual styles, these features also considered the need of social reality. Although our stylistic analysis, it can help us well appreciate American presidents’ inaugural speech and enhance our presentation skills in daily life.

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    Stylistic Analysis of Obama’s Inaugural Speech. (2016, Oct 27). Retrieved from

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    What is a key point of President Obama's second inaugural address?
    In his second inauguration address, Obama proclaimed that "while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth". He called for laws to combat climate change, enactment of immigration reform and gun control.
    What is the main message of Obama's speech?
    The theme for President Obama's speech was "Rescue, Rebuild, Restore – a New Foundation for Prosperity". Among the topics that Obama covered in his speech were proposals for job creation and federal deficit reduction.
    What is the purpose of Obama's inaugural speech?
    The central theme of President Obama's inaugural address was a call to restore responsibility—both in terms of accountability in Washington and the responsibility of ordinary people to get involved. Obama's address did not have memorable sound bite phrases.
    What rhetorical device did Barack Obama use in his speech?
    Other rhetorical devices Obama used in his campaign speeches were repetition, metaphor, personification, climax, and allusion.

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