Language power in the political discourse

The description of some linguistic methods, which politicians use in their speeches to make an impression on the audience. Analysis of speeches of American Presidents. Studying their real aims and goals, which they hide by saying powerful phrases.

Рубрика Иностранные языки и языкознание
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Язык английский
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This article describes the methods, which politicians use in their speeches to make an impression on the audience. These are some linguistic methods: metaphors, repetitions, alliterations, rhetorical questions. In this article we can see how they use it in practice and we can make an analysis of speeches of American Presidents. Also, we will see their real aims and goals, which they hide by saying beautiful and powerful phrases.

Acest articol descrie metodele, pe care politicienii le folosesc оn discursurile lor pentru a face o impresie asupra publicului. Acestea sunt metodele lingvistice: metafore, repetiюii, alteraюii, оntrebгri retorice. Оn acest articol putem observa modul оn care оl folosesc оn practicг єi putem face o analizг a discursurilor preєedinюilor americani. De asemenea, vom vedea obiectivele lor reale єi obiectivele, pe care le ascund prin a spune fraze frumoase si puternice.

Key words: power, language, politics, impression, metaphor, alliteration, repetition, rhetorical question, politician, audience.


In the United States of America, the presidents elected by the citizens need to make an abiding impression and comply with the desires and demands of the American people. The president's ambition is to increase political participation, to encourage mutual understanding and to show common ground in world politics and domestic matters. Politicians as well as presidents have to work with rhetorical strategies to convince the American people of their discernment. The use of metaphor, euphemisms, repetitions and rhetorical questions as a part of figurative language aims to help the listener to visualize what is meant by a phrase or expression. Politicians use language to persuade people that their thoughts, aims and ideas are equitable and to make their point clear and vivid to the people. The speaker needs to use various language tools in order to make the message persuasive and comprehensible to the listener. Politicians seek to comply with the emotions, desires, and needs of the audience.

The speaker needs to use their language to appeal to emotions and to include and affect the audience. The aim is to emphasize suitable issues and hiding others. An apt tool is the use of some figures of speech in addresses to the public. The orator does not have to distort the facts when using metaphoric language. The response to the address depends on the interpretation in the mind of the listener. Politicians are rewarded for how vividly and convincingly they present their argument rather than for how honestly they present their views. [1]

Aim. The aim of this works to analyze and elucidate the linguistic power in political discourse. There are a lot of methods which use politicians to make a great impression on the audience. What are these methods? And how do politicians use them?

Language and power: influential and instrumental power of language

One obvious feature of how language operates in social interaction is its influential and instrumental relationship with power. It is generally accepted that influential power inclines people either to behave in certain ways or makes people adopt opinions/attitudes without exerting obvious force on them. It operates in such social spheres as advertising, culture, media and politics. In other words, if we resist the influential power, we are not usually the subjects to some penalty or trouble. We usually do not suffer any penalty for a kind of a "sales resistance" to buy high-end or top-end goods (e.g. the highest-priced model cars, skis, furniture, etc), or for the resistance to be one political party loyal.

In contrast, instrumental power is explicit power, which is imposed by the state, by the laws and conventions of this state and by the institutions and organizations we work for. Instrumental power operates in such social spheres as business, education, and in various types of management. Thus, it can be asserted that in many, but not in all cases, if we resist instrumental power, we might be subjects to some kind of penalty.

However, it has to be admitted that in some spheres of social activity, such as politics or law, both kinds of power may be present at the same time. For example, we are subjects to current laws, which often enforce penalties for wrongdoing, but some legal processes, such as trial by jury, rely on the attempts to persuade those who are involved in them. All in all, politicians impose laws, taxes and bureaucratic systems, i.e. they use instrumental power. However, they seek to influence us to endorse their policies, or they call for the eventual voters' political loyalty, thus imposing their influential power. They may wish to influence us to use our collective power to return them to governmental institutions, where they will use their executive power to direct or influence some important aspects of our lives. In other words, politicians aim at having the power to tell people what to do and how to live. linguistic method politician speech

Seemingly, the features of political discourse vary, as do its purposes. Providing politicians interact with society in general, their purposes may be:

· to persuade voters to be a party loyal and to turn up to vote,

· to move a floating voters' party loyalty,

· to make people adopt general political or social attitudes in order to attract support for a present policy.

Similarly, politicians may also use particular language forms when answering journalists' questions. Where politicians engage in language interactions with other politicians, their discourse differs to a great extent.

Thus, it is axiomatic that language plays an essential part in politics because its main function in different political situations is to enable politicians to form structurally stable social relationships. As it has been stated above, an essential area of political discourse is linguistic manipulation. Therefore, discourse analysis, though primarily being a field of inquiry in linguistics, has become multidisciplinary in nature. As a result, one of the main focuses in language for politics is on the linguistic text with varying degrees of socio-cultural context taken into consideration. It is clear that discourse involves both text and context. When analyzing the political discourse, applied linguists are primarily interested in the transactional or interactional nature of the discourse since one of the basic functions of language is to transmit information, be it factual or propositional. In this respect, the present inquiry sees the issue of linguistic manipulation as the source for this investigation. [6]

Metaphors. Metaphor is a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest are semblance. There are a lot of types of metaphors, but we will analyze metaphors of personification. The conceptual metaphors introduced and analyzed in this work are: THE WORLD AS A COMMUNITY, NATION AS PERSON, NATION WITH HUMAN ATTRIBUTES AND NATION ACTING HUMAN.

Inaugural address - Ronald Reagan 1981 (-1989)


"We suffer from the longest and one of the worst sustained inflations in our nation's history." "The economic ills we suffer have come upon us over several decades". [8]

When Reagan took office the nation was undergoing a rough economic period. Reagan therefore emphasizes how deficient the economy is by conceptualizing the inflation as a physical ill hurting the nation-person. He presents the economic issue to be perceived as being a disease that is impairing the nation-person. The inflation is, according to Reagan, a serious ill that has affected and controlled the nation for a long period of time. However, Reagan does not offer any solutions; his aim is to make clear the seriousness of the problem.


"With the idealism and fair play which are the core of our system and our strength, we can have a strong and prosperous America at peace with itself and with the world". [8]

Reagan implies that America could be a strong nation-person at peace with itself and the area in which the nation-person is active. With some effort, America will be the best it can be. He suggests and invites solidarity with the nation-person by implying that America has potential to be content and at peace with the rest of the world. This is not a problem he is presenting, but he encourages the citizens to feel for the nation the way a person feels for another person.


"Now, there will be no misunderstanding, it is not my intention to do away with government. It is, rather, to make it work - work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not to ride on our back." [8]

Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it.

Metaphorically Reagan says that the nation has a human body; a back that the government is able to ride on and a side to stand by. Reagan was of the opinion that thegovernment was not the path to prosperity, that private industrials and businesses was the way to deal with the issue. The presented problem is that government has been smothering and limiting the nation-person's opportunities. However, Reagan's opinion is that this nation-person is not about to be smothered and stifled. He wishes and aims for the nation to be self-governed and autonomous. [4]

Balance. Rhythmically balanced phrases and sentences appeal to the ear. They can have a hypnotic effect, persuading listeners to accept what is being said.

Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country. John F. Kennedy

The "three effect":

For some reason, three balanced phrases or three strong, emotive or alliterative words have a particularly dramatic impact, for example.

I came, I saw, I conquered. Julius Caesar

Of the people, by the people, for the people. Abraham Lincoln

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. Winston Churchill [9]

Alliteration in Political Speeches by the US Presidents. Alliteration is a stylistic literary device identified by the repeated sound of the first consonant in a series of multiple words, or the repetition of the same sounds or of the same kinds of sounds at the beginning of words or in stressed syllables of a phrase.

For example, … governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. (B. Obama) [7]

In this example, there is a repetition of the initial consonant's which surely imposes sound effects and deep impression on the listeners or the readers. Maybe, the three successive fricatives at the initial position of each word could create an impression of something perfect and stable in its similarity. The audiences who are listening this speech are likely to have something left in their mind or remember the ideas that the speaker want to give deeply. The repeated consonant sounds can be completely successive.

For example: America has a clear goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida and its allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. (B. Obama) [7]

In addition, we also found most of the alliterations that the initial consonant sounds in words were not next to each other. They could draw attention to the phrase and were often used for emphasis, as in: Make no mistake: we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. (B. Obama)

It is concluded that alliteration is one of the important tools in producing a successful speech. [2]

Repetition in Political Speeches by US Presidents. Repetition is the simple repeating of a word, within a sentence or a poetical line, with no particular placement of the words, in order to secure emphasis. This is such a common literary device that it is almost never even noted as a figure of speech. It also has connotations to listing for effect and is used commonly by famous poets or by politicians.

For example: That is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest. (B. Obama) [7]

Here, the words "interest" was intentionally repeated. In this speech, the president was discussing about the conflict between Israel and Palestine and he wanted them to live in peace and security and that was the hope of the people all over the world so the words "interest" was repeated four times to highlight its importance and to made a good effect on the hearers/ the readers.

Rhetorical Questions in Political Speeches by the US Presidents. A rhetorical question is a figure of speech in the form of a question that is asked in order to make a point, rather than to elicit an answer. Though classically stated as a proper question, such a rhetorical device may be posed declaratively by implying a question, and therefore may not always require a question mark when written. Though a rhetorical question does not require a direct answer, in many cases it may be intended to start a discussion or at least draw an acknowledgement that the listener understands the intended message.

In Wh-question form, we also found that the rhetorical questions were often used to produce an effect on listener's attitude, emotion and psychology with the aim to get the listeners' approval and support, as in:

Why, then, should we think that collectively, as a nation, we are not bound by that same limitation? Why shouldn't we believe that? (R. Reagan)

Besides, we found some rhetorical questions might be encouraging and motivating. They also had the effect of urging and challenging the prospects to make decision or take part in the action.

Moreover, the speakers used rhetorical question in political speeches to give a persuasive way that can make the audience join them to act and find the solution for the policies or the problems as in:

What will we do in 1970 when elementary school enrollment will be 5 million greater than 1960? (Lyndon Baines Johnson) [5]

In conclusion, rhetorical question used in political speeches is the way of the effective persuasion and also creates attention as well as provide the important affairs of the nation in order to get the listeners' approval and support. [3]


As we see, there are a lot of methods of linguistic manipulation, which presidents and other politicians use in their speeches. Metaphors help them to make a right impression on the public, to make the mood of the people. By metaphors politicians can prejudice against another nation or other politicians, or give hope for the prosperous future of the nation. As for rhythmically balanced phrases, they can have a hypnotic effect, persuading listeners to accept what is being said. The "three effect" also helps to politicians make a deep and strong impression on the people. Alliterations, repetitions and rhetorical questions help them to implant their thoughts and ideas to the whole nation. In their speeches, politicians combine the power of language with the political power.


1. Beard, Adrian (2000). The Language of Politics. London: Routledge.

2. "Definition of Alliteration, Literary Devices". Retrieved2013-09-27.

3. Gideon O. Burton, Brigham Young University. "Rhetorical Questions". Specialized language definitions. Retrieved2007-10-19.

4. Ida Vestermark "Metaphors in Politics", 2007.

5. Lyndon Baines Johnson, his speech in University of Michigan, 1964.

6. Nordquist, RIchard. Epizeuxis. Lincoln Financial Group. 20 May 2008.

7. Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Barack Obama. United States Government Printing Office, 2010.

8. Ronald Reagan "First Inaugural Address", 1981.


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