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Winnie the Pooh Analysis

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American political speeches in the twenty-first century are perhaps more frequently analyzed than any other body of language in modern American English. With the growing popularity and use of the major news media and the Internet, the general public currently has an utterly unprecedented level of access to reports, transcripts and even videos of every word that passes through a public speaker's lips. The public scrutiny, however, is generally turned towards the meaningful content of these speeches rather than the manner of their expression. Nevertheless a great volume of information is conveyed by these political figures, not only at the semantic level, but also on the levels of syntax, morphology and even phonetics. Through analysis of a body of speeches delivered by the current national candidates while campaigning for the presidential primary elections, this study will identify some of the common characteristics of preprepared political speeches and highlight the differences between the linguistic features commonly present in Democratic speeches as opposed to those of Republican ones.
There are several readily recognizable techniques employed by all politicians, regardless of platform or ideology, when delivering speeches. Repetition is one of the most obvious of these. While attempting to emphasize a particular point, the speaker will often use nested parallel clauses and repeat words or whole phrases within a single sentence:
"...if you're looking for a leader who has been tested in times of crisis; a leader who's ready to lead right now; a leader who's achieved results - results that some people thought were impossible --a leader who believes that there is no problem too difficult for American solutions and a free, American spirit. I believe I am that leader." (Giuliani, December 2007)
This feature is also commonly found in poetry and song. Like rhyme, repetition can make a sentence or phrase "catchy," or more memorable, creating a rhythm for the words which can stick with the listener as much or more than the actual words spoken do. Often this repetition will extend beyond just a single thought, and a word or phrase will be repeated several times throughout the entire address, as is the case with the phrase, "Let us be the generation..." in Barrack Obama's Announcement Speech (Obama, February 2007).
Obama's recurring phrase also exemplifies another frequently used rhetorical device. Political speeches, especially those delivered at party conventions or other collections of listeners who share the platform or party of the speaker, are generally delivered in the first-person plural, rather than singular: "Now, what can we do?...We can turn around and say let's have a health care program that establishes equality" (Gravel, March 2007). Late Modern English does not differentiate between the inclusive, "you and I," and the exclusive, "me and someone else," sense of the second-person in its pronouns; so a listener hearing "we" or "us" is free to interpret the usage as inclusive even if it is not: "We believe that every single human being is a child of God - we are all part of the human family" (Romney, December 2007). This inclusivity fosters a sense that the candidate is speaking for the listener as well as himself and presupposes the listener's agreement with the ideas espoused in a way that subtly brooks no argument.
Third-person plural pronouns, sometimes without clear antecedents, are often used in conjunction with this unclear "we" to further implant the idea of inclusivity: "And because they view our government with contempt - they treat it with contempt" (Clinton, April 2007). By setting up what is literally an "us versus them" situation, the speaker can readily generate sympathy from a receptive audience: "Their policies and actions have encouraged more illegals [sic] to cross our borders where they have taken our jobs, burdened our communities, threatened our security, and trampled our laws" (Tancredo, April 2007).
On the other side of the pronoun issue, in certain cases, politicians will utilize the first-person singular emphatically, often to highlight differences between their own respective political stances or character traits and those of opponents without specifically referring to those opponents: "I am not holier than thou. I am not perfect by any means" (Edwards, October 2007). The use of "I," especially when it marks a shift away from a trend of plural pronouns, indicates that the listener is to take what follows as something of individual importance to the speaker, perhaps even something unique. More often than not, these emphatic "I" statements are merely rehashing of party-line ideals which are, in fact, quite common: "I would propose a tax-system that is so simple that a seven-year-old running a lemonade stand can operate it" (Huckabee, July 2007). These statements often begin with the phrase "I believe," which acts as an acknowledgment that the information which follows is disputed in nature without actually necessitating the mention of opposing ideas: "I believe the choice between moral authority and security is a false choice" (Dodd, October, 2007); "I believe that almost every single problem that we're facing today has come about because we haven't been a stickler for the rule of law" (Paul, May 2007).
In addition to the many bi-partisan characteristics of American political speech, however, there are certain linguistic features which are notably more present in the addresses of one party or the other. These differences are probably best attributed to the respective demographics which the two parties most frequently target in their campaigns. Based upon party platform, it is widely believed that the Republican Party generally targets middle to upper-middle class individuals in their mid-life who have a strong religious background. As this comprises what is considered to be the largest single voting-age group in the country, the Democratic Party, by contrast, is believed to target a series of smaller groups, notably low-income minority populations and college-age youth. The contrast between these demographics is high, so it is not hard to see why linguistic differences would occur, however both parties seek to be as broadly appealing as possible, so these "stylistic" differences are generally subtle.
In Republican speeches there is a greater tendency towards citing personal anecdotal experiences which have influenced the candidate's ideals or platform. "I made some folks mad when I worked to cut harmful greenhouse emissions because I believe climate change is a real and needs to be addressed now" (McCain, November 2007). These anecdotes serve to de-formalize the register of the speech and make it almost conversational, lending a more approachable, "human" air to the speaker.
"I've been traveling a lot lately around the country and it's especially nice to receive a warm welcome back here in the South. In my last film role, I played President Ulysses S. Grant. I want you to know that I drew the line at playing General Sherman" (Thompson, November 2007).
This "humanizing" effect is important to candidates running under the Republican Party platform because many of the tenets of that platform stress the importance of smaller-government and family-values. A speaker attempting to sympathize with his audience on matters as personal as family and religion is less likely to be appealing to that audience is his tone is too formal and impersonal.
A special subset of these anecdotes is also employed very frequently by Republican politicians: "It was Mom, though, who did the lion's share of raising Lynn, Jane, Scott and me" (Romney, February 2007). Deeply personal, seemingly mundane anecdotes about the speaker's childhood or daily life are interspersed throughout a speech in order to lend the speaker a "simple" or "common" air:
"My story is an American story - like one of many our country has produced - where a small town kid of modest means and modest goals grows up to realize that he has been a very lucky person. Lucky to have been born in America, lucky to have had the parents I had and lucky to have had a few people in my life who sometimes saw more in me than I saw in myself" (Thompson, September 2007).
Republican candidates often try to stress the ways in which they are "just like" the average American, as opposed to being some stuffy politician that a citizen could never relate to on a personal level: "You know, my wife and I do not enjoy the same type of movies, so we always are in this conflict. So we don't see many movies, frankly" (Tancredo, March 2007). Details of the candidate's life that might be considered unimportant to his actual stances on issues are displayed frequently to achieve this effect.
While Republicans are promoting themselves as "simple folk," the Democrats seek to put forth an image of disenfranchisement:
"When government consistently lets us down like this, we become cynical. We distrust our government - and grow to distrust democracy itself. We decide that politics is distasteful, and politicians just out for themselves, so why should we trust our government with our hopes, dreamsand ideals?" (Clinton, April 2007).
This is also an attempt at "humanizing" the candidates, but it takes a different approach: "Each day I see the effect of our misplaced national priorities on my city" (Kucinich, December 2006). Despite the fact that most of the major Democratic candidates are US Senators and that both Houses of Congress currently hold a Democratic majority, the fact that Presidency has been held by a Republican for the past seven years allows them to take the position that the Democrats have not been allowed a say in the way that the country has been run in recent times. This assumed "underdog" status allows them to not only generate sympathy, but also to shirk responsibility for any current problems.
The most notable linguistic tactic utilized to achieve this effect is the use of an abundance of negative statements: "Everywhere I go, I see people working for America. But America doesn't seem to be working for them" (Richardson, December 2007). Negative constructions are employed to highlight what the current administration is doing incorrectly, allowing the audience to infer that the speaker would do just the opposite without the speaker having to promise anything: "[Bush] abandoned our uncompromising commitment to the rule of law and individual rights in the belief that it was the only way to secure the United States against the threat of terrorism" (Biden, April 2007). Sometimes solutions to very grandiose problems can be made to seem quite simply solved with this tactic:
"30% of America's children do not finish high school... The U.S. and South Africa are the only two developed nations in the world that do not provide health-care for all their citizens... Sanctions do not work; they merely punish the innocent and strengthen the power of political leaders and tyrants..." (Gravel, November 2006).
All that these statements actually say, however, is that something was not fixed, and though they imply that the speaker holds a solution, they do not reveal one.
Political speech, as a subset of late Modern English, is an interesting entity. Many of its linguistic features attempt to mimic those of conversational, scholarly or formal English, but the defining differences ultimately stem from the fact that it is all carefully crafted to persuade or even manipulate its intended audience.
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