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Speech Acts in Political Speeches

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Speech Acts in Political Speeches

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Speech Acts in Selected Political Speeches Abstract The study investigates the role of language in the communication and interpretation of intentions by examining selected political speeches of John Kerry in Presidential Campaign in 2004 and George Bush- Inaugural address in 2001 since they have the same purposes as pieces of discourse with specific goals. Hence, the study focused on the pragmatic functions of locution, illocutionary and perlocutionary acts of the speeches. Twenty sentences were selected from the two speeches. The findings show that the overall relative frequency percentages for the selected speeches are: commissive 40%, assertive 35%, directive 20%, and expressive 5%. The results show that Kerry relied more on sentences that performed commissive acts than other speech acts since he committed to some future actions, and he promised to make the world fit the words. Bush used sentences with assertive acts more than other speech acts since the assertive has a truth value which can only enhance the effect of the asserted proposition. Hence, the data are characterized by a preponderance of commissive, assertive and directive acts that are mostly used as mobilization strategies, especially in political campaigns, where it is essential for candidates to persuade their listeners to win elections. Politicians communicate directly with the general public in order to convince them of their programs or ideas. Usually, the speakers would promote about their self and talk about their potency to be a good leader with all their goals to convince the hearer. In this area, the speech act analysis of the political speeches provides the understanding that political leaders perform various acts through their speeches. The revelation of the dominance of Speech Acts is a reflection of the purpose of political speeches which are to influence, persuade, impress, convince, and even to deceive the populace. Key words: Speech Acts Theory, Political Discourse, Political Speeches.
Journal of Modern Education Review, ISSN 2155-7993, USA
July 2015, Volume 5, No. 7, pp. 699–706
Doi: 10.15341/jmer(2155-7993)/07.05.2015/008
© Academic Star Publishing Company, 2015
http://www.academicstar.us
699
Speech Acts in Political Speeches
Suhair Safwat Mohammed Hashim
(School of Languages, University of Sulaimani, Iraq)
Abstract: The study investigates the role of language in the communication and interpretation of intentions
by examining selected political speeches of John Kerry in Presidential Campaign in 2004 and George Bush-
Inaugural address in 2001 since they have the same purposes as pieces of discourse with specific goals. Hence, the
study focused on the pragmatic functions of locution, illocutionary and perlocutionary acts of the speeches.
Twenty sentences were selected from the two speeches. The findings show that the overall relative frequency
percentages for the selected speeches are: commissive 40%, assertive 35%, directive 20%, and expressive 5%.
The results show that Kerry relied more on sentences that performed commissive acts than other speech acts since
he committed to some future actions, and he promised to make the world fit the words. Bush used sentences with
assertive acts more than other speech acts since the assertive has a truth value which can only enhance the effect
of the asserted proposition. Hence, the data are characterized by a preponderance of commissive, assertive and
directive acts that are mostly used as mobilization strategies, especially in political campaigns, where it is
essential for candidates to persuade their listeners to win elections.
Politicians communicate directly with the general public in order to convince them of their programs or ideas.
Usually, the speakers would promote about their self and talk about their potency to be a good leader with all their
goals to convince the hearer. In this area, the speech act analysis of the political speeches provides the
understanding that political leaders perform various acts through their speeches.
Key words: speech acts theory, political discourse, political speeches
1. Introduction
Political language deals with the use of power to organize people’s mind and opinion. It is an instrument used
to control the society in general. Speech heard by a lot of people, every person has different interpretations that
can influence the success of the candidates. Political speech can be seen as a means of establishing and
maintaining social relationships, expressing feelings, and selling ideas, policies and programmes in any society. In
pragmatics aspect, this means Speech Act Theory; speech act performed by particular word often depends on the
speaker’s intention and the context in which the word uttered.
This paper presents a speech acts analysis of two political speeches in presidential campaign. It tries to find
the meaning of utterances based on the context of the speaker.
Suhair Safwat Mohammed Hashim, Ph.D., School of Languages, University of Sulaimani; research areas/interests: pragmatics.
E-mail: suhairsh2000@gmail.com.
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2. Political Discourse
Many studies of political discourse deal with the language of professional politicians and political institutions,
some of which are discourse- analytical (Chilton, 2004, p. 14).
Political discourse is identified by its actors or authors, viz., politicians. Politicians in this sense are the group
of people who are being paid for their (political) activities, and who are being elected or appointed as the central
players in the politics. But we therefore should also include the various recipients in political communicative
events, such as the public, the people, and citizens. All these groups and individuals, as well as their organizations
and institutions, may take part in the political process, and many of them are actively involved in political
discourse (Van Dijk, 1997, p. 13).
The organization of public life around style-oriented service and consumer activities has also shaped
conceptions of political representations. It may therefore not come as a surprise that politicians themselves have
adopted a more personalized rhetoric of choice and life style values to communicate their political messages to
citizens (Simpson & Mayr, 2010, pp. 42–43).
Political discourse is not only about stating public propositions. It is about politics. It is about doing things
with words. Words are used to affect the political body. Lexical items not only may be selected because of official
criteria of decorum, but also because they effectively emphasize political attitudes and opinions, manipulate
public opinion, manufacture political consent, or legitimate political power. The same may be true for the
pragmatic management of speech acts and interactional-self presentation. In other words, may be the structures of
political discourse are seldom exclusive, but typical and effective discourse in political contexts may well have
preferred structures and strategies that are functional in the adequate accomplishment of political actions in
political contexts.
Studies on presidential speeches as an aspect of political discourse have been from wide range of
perspectives. Undoubtedly, political discourse has been a major domain of language use that has attracted the
interests of researchers for a long while. This is because political discourse is a complex human activity that
deserves critical study particularly because of its central place in the organization and management of society.
The paper reveals the effectiveness of discourse tact in ensuring that speech acts force is achieved in
discourse.
3. Political Speeches
In political speeches, ideas and ideologies need to be conveyed through language so that they are agreed
upon by the receivers as well as by others who may read or hear parts of the speech afterwards in the media.
Words and expressions are used or omitted to affect meaning in different ways. Moreover, political speeches are
composed by a team of professional speech writers who are educated in the use of persuasive language. A political
speech is not necessarily a success because of a correctness of truth; rather it may be a matter of presenting
arguments (Bread, 2000, p. 18).
Several speeches are made to address the people before election; these speeches could also be referred to Pre-
election special addresses especially at rally and campaign. A political speech serves as a text, as an output and as
a process which may be spoken or written.
Pragmatics is seen as the study of language use in particular communicative contexts or situations of
Speech Acts in Political Speeches
701
necessity, this would take cognizance of the message being communicated or the speech act being performed; the
participants involved; their intention, knowledge of the world and the impact of these on their interactions; what
they have taken for granted as part of the context; the deductions they make on the basis of the context; what is
implied by what is said or left unsaid; etc. (Leech, 1983, p. 20; Watson & Hill, 1993, p. 146; Thomas, 1995, p. 7).
Most politicians are unaware of the fact that there is a link between what is said, what is meant, and the
action conveyed by what is said. In the study of political speeches, one major theory that has been affective and
adequate for analysis is the speech act theory.
4. Speech Acts Theory
The study of meaning as an enterprise in language study has attracted a lot of enquiries from various
language experts. So far, two major directions have been distinguished; these are semantics and pragmatics.
Although, these perspectives are different, they are complementary. Semantics as a branch of linguistics has been
defined as “the study of meaning”. According to Yule (1996, p. 114), in semantic analysis, there is always an
attempt to focus on what the words conventionally mean. Thus, Semantics studies the conventional meaning
conveyed by the use of words, phrases and sentences of a language. Pragmatics, on the other hand, is often
described as the study of language in use. The difference, however, is that “while in semantic analysis, there is an
attempt to focus on what the words conventionally mean, pragmatic analysis focuses on what a speaker might
want the words to mean on a particular occasion.” (Grundy, 2000, p. 33).
Central to Pragmatics is Speech Acts Theory. It is a tool to interpret the meaning and function of words in
different speech situations. It concerns itself with the symbolism of words. The difference between a meaningful
string of words and meaningless ones, the truth value or falsity of utterances, and the function to which language
can be put.
Speech is premised on the fact that people perform various actions through the use of words and when
utterances are made, a particular act is performed; this is called Speech Act.
Speech Acts according to Austin (1962) fall into three classes, which are: locutionary, illocutionary, and
perlocutionary acts. A locutionary act is an act of saying something; that is, the act of producing an utterance.
Illocutionary acts are the core of any theory of speech acts. Illocutionary act is identified by the explicit
performative. That is, the conventional force achieved in the saying of that utterance. This is realized, according to
Austin (1962) as the successful realization of the speaker’s intention, which for Searle (1969) is a product of the
listener’s interpretation.
The perlocutionary act is the effect or influence on the feelings, thoughts or actions of the listener/hearer.
Perlocutionary acts could be inspiring, persuading, consoling, etc. it brings about an effect upon the beliefs,
attitudes or behaviors of the addressee.
Hence, Searle (1969) categorizes the illocutionary acts into five classes:
(1) Assertives: Commit speakers to the truth of the expressed proposition, e.g., stating, claiming, reporting,
announcing, etc.
(2) Directives: these are statements that compel or make another person’s action fit the propositional element.
It is usually used to give order thereby causing the hearer to take a particular action, request, command or advice.
(3) Commissives: Commit speakers to some future actions, e.g., promising, offering, swearing, etc. to do
something.
Speech Acts in Political Speeches
702
(4) Expressives: Count as the expression of some psychological state, e.g., thinking, apologizing,
congratulating, etc.
(5) Declaratives: These statements are used to say something and make it so, such as pronouncing someone
guilty, resigning, dismissing, accepting, declaring a war, etc.
We adopt Searle’s classification for the purpose of analysis.
Political communication involves a focus on meaning, the understanding of which is largely a function of
reaching the illocutionary force of a speaker’s utterances. Politicians articulate a lot of intentions in their speeches:
they inform, inspire, assure, accuse, promise, direct, suggest, apologize, disagree, criticize, etc. this underscores
the relevance of Speech Act Theory to our data analysis. This application of the Speech Act Theory in the analysis
will allow — in-depth research into the linguistic features that have been explored by the speaker to inculcate
meaning into the formal linguistic properties of the selected speeches.
5. Objectives of the Study
The research attempts in general terms the analysis of the selected political speeches within the theory of
Speech Acts. Thus, the research is meant to identify the speech act features of the selected speeches, to analyze the
features in relation to the contexts in which the speeches were presented, and to determine how the identified
features project the message in the speeches.
6. Research Methodology
In this research, two political speeches were selected of John Kerry from the 2004 Presidential Campaign
about The Economy and Middle Class Families and the second is George W. Bush speech — Inaugural address in
2001. The selected speeches were downloaded from the internet and analyzed to show the speech acts performed
in the course delivering the speeches.
The linguistic approach adopted is based on the linguistic framework of Speech Acts Theory of Austin (1962)
and Searle (1969).
The selected speeches vary in length and number of sentences. We, therefore extracted specific portions from
the speeches, ten sentences were selected. In the course of analysis, the two speeches selected are labeled A and B.
The number of sentences in the extracted portion are ten; therefore, we have A 10 and B 10. This was done
in order to make the analysis clear and easy to understand. The calculation of the percentages of the speech acts in
a speech is made so as to make interpretation of the tables clear and empirical.
Speech Acts Analysis of Kerry’s Speech (A)
A1
Locution
Today, I’ve got a message for that woman and every other middle- class American struggling to build a better life for their family:
I’ve got yours too.
Illocutionary act: Assertive (reporting).
Expected Perlocutionary effect: Hopefulness.
A2
Locution
Time and time again, George Bush has proven that he’s stubborn, out of touch, and unwilling to change course.
Speech Acts in Political Speeches
703
Illocutionary act: Assertive (stating).
Perlocutionary effect: Loss of confidence.
A3
Locution
Middle class families deserve a new choice, and one month from today, they’ll have one.
Illocutionary act: Commissive (promising).
Perlocutionary effect: Encouragement and hopefulness.
A4
Locution
That’s what I stand for, that’s who I’ve fought for, and if you give me the chance, that’s where I’ll lead this nation as your president.
Illocutionary act: Directive (requesting).
Perlocutionary effect: Encouragement.
A5
Locution
Our plan starts by offering a new choice on jobs.
Illocutionary act: Commissive (promising).
Perlocutionary act: Happiness and hopefulness.
A6
Locution
We will offer after school opportunities to another 2 million children, so your kids have a safe place to go while you work.
Illocutionary act: Commissive (offering and promising).
Perlocutionary act: Encouragement and hopefulness.
A7
Locution
We can fight for the middle class with my plan to finally make America energy independent of Mideast oil.
Illocutionary act: Directive (appealing).
Perlocutionary effect: Inspiring.
A8
Locution
But today, for too many families, the dream is harder to reach because of decisions made by the administration.
Illocutionary act: Assertive (stating).
Perlocutionary act: Loss of confidence.
A9
Locution
We choose health care that works for all Americans- that lowers the cost to business, lowers the premiums for families, and makes
health care affordable and accessible to everyone.
Illocutionary act: Commissive (offering).
Perlocutionary effect: Hopefulness and happiness.
Speech Acts in Political Speeches
704
A10
Locution
We will help Americans meet demands at home at work by expanding family and medical leave.
Illocutionary act: Commissive (promising).
Perlocutionary effect: Hopefulness and excitement.
Speech Acts Analysis of George Bush’s Speech (B)
B1
Locution
I am honored and humbled t stand here, where so many of America’s leaders have come before me, and so many will follow.
Illocutionary act: Assertive (stating).
Perlocutionary effect: Excitement.
B2
Locution
And we are confident in principles that unite and lead us award.
Illocutionary act: Assertive (stating, announcing).
Perlocutionary effect: Hopefulness.
B3
Locution
As I begin, I thank President Clinton for his service to our nation.
Illocutionary act: Expressive (thanking).
Perlocutionary effect: Cheerfulness and happiness.
B4
Locution
Today, we affirm a new commitment to live out our nation’s promise through civility, courage, compassion and character.
Illocutionary act: Assertive (claiming).
Perlocutionary effect: Hopefulness and encouragement.
B5
Locution
The enemies of liberty and our country should make no mistakes: America remains engaged in the world by history and by choice,
shaping a balance of power that favors freedom.
Illocutionary act: Directive (claiming).
Perlocutionary effect: Determining and encouraging.
B6
Locution
America, at its best, is a place where personal responsibility is valued and expected.
Illocutionary act: Assertive (stating).
Perlocutionary effect: Cheerfulness and excitement.
Speech Acts in Political Speeches
705
B7
Locution
Never tiring, never yielding, never finishing, we renew that purpose today, to make our country more just and generous, to affirm the
dignity of our lives and every life.
Illocutionary act: Commissive (promising).
Perlocutionary effect: Encouragement and hopefulness.
B8
Locution
We will build our defenses beyond challenge, lest weakness invite challenge.
Illocutionary act: Commissive (promising).
Perlocutionary effect: Hopefulness.
B9
Locution
I ask you to seek a common good beyond your comfort; to defend needed reforms against easy attacks; to serve your nation,
beginning with your neighbor.
Illocutionary act: Directive (requesting, demanding).
Perlocutionary effect: Inspiring and encouragement.
B10
Locution
We will reform social security and Medicare, sparing our children from struggles we have the power to prevent.
Illocutionary act: Commissive (promising).
Perlocutionary effect: Hopefulness and encouragement.
Table 1 Illocutionary Acts of Speech (A)
Illocutionary Acts Frequency Percentage
Commissive 5 50%
Assertive 3 30%
Directive 2 20%
Table 2 Illocutionary Acts of Speech (B)
Illocutionary Acts Frequency Percentage
Assertive 4 40%
Commissive 3 30%
Directive 2 20%
Expressive 1 10%
Table 3 Summary of Tables 1 and 2
Illocutionary Acts Frequency Percentage
Commissive 8 40%
Assertive 7 35%
Directive 4 20%
Expressive 1 5%
Speech Acts in Political Speeches
706
7. Findings and Discussion
Language is a powerful weapon in getting to the political thoughts and ideologies of politicians, hence the
language use of Kerry and Bush is studied through the two selected speeches in order to get to their thoughts. The
Speech Act Theory was applied with the five categories of Searle’s (1969).
It was discovered from Kerry’s speech that he had used sentences that are commissive as they have a total
percentage 50% while 30% are assertive and 20% are directive. Kerry had used mainly commissive speech acts in
his presidential campaign to commit himself to some future action. Commissives are promises, threat, refusals,
and pledges, and they can be performed by the speaker. In using the commissive, the speaker undertakes to make
the world fit the words (via the speaker).
The assertive in Bush’s speech are 40%, that is to say Bush used language to state, maintain, inform, and
announce by asserting his authority. 30% are commissives, 20% are directives, and 10% are expressive speech act.
From the overall relative frequency percentages tables that 40% of the total sentences are commissives,
followed by assertive acts with 35%, while directives have 20% and expressive have 5%.
It is found that commissive speech acts are identified more than other types of speech acts in the selected
political speeches. Here we find out that the two speakers promise and challenge their hearers to show that they
are committed to the task of rebuilding their nation.
8. Conclusion
The study has examined selected political speeches as pieces of discourse with specific goals. The
identification of speech acts types in speeches go a long way in ascribing meanings to such speeches. In other
words, the speech acts bring to the fore meaning in speeches. As observed, in the process or act of saying
something; other speech acts are performed. The speech acts in a work portray the personality of the speaker.
The analysis of the two speeches reveals that Kerry’s speech is characterized by the use of commissive
speech acts, especially in political campaign where it is essential for candidates to persuade their listeners towards
a desired goal of winning elections.
In Bush’s speech, the use of assertive speech acts have a truth value which commits the speaker to the truth
of the expressed propositions and consequently provide whatever motivation and/ or justification.
The Speech Act Theory as a framework in the analysis of the selected speeches enables us to explore the
language use of political leaders.
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Amsterdam: John Benjamines.
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This is an essential read for anyone interested in the way language is used in the world of politics. Based on Aristotle's premise that we are all political animals, able to use language to pursue our own ends, the book uses the theoretical framework of linguistics to explore the ways in which we think and behave politically. Contemporary and high profile case studies of politicians and other speakers are used, including an examination of the dangerous influence of a politician's words on the defendants in the Stephen Lawrence murder trial. International in its perspective, Analysing Political Discourse also considers the changing landscape of political language post-September 11, including the increasing use of religious imagery in the political discourse of, amongst others, George Bush. Written in a lively and engaging style, this book provides an essential introduction to political discourse analysis.
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L'A. se propose de definir ce que l'on entend par discours politique et montre comment il peut etre etudie d'une maniere critique. Selon lui, une telle analyse ne doit pas simplement etre une contribution aux etudes discursives, mais aussi aux sciences politiques et aux sciences sociales en general. Ainsi, le discours politique est essentiellement defini contextuellement, c-a-d en termes de pratiques ou d'evenements particuliers dont le but et la fonction ne sont peut-etre pas exclusivement, mais au moins initialement, politiques. D'un point de vue analytique, cette definition contextuelle suggere que l'etude du discours politique ne doit pas se limiter aux proprietes structurales du texte ou du discours, mais doit aussi inclure une prise en consideration systematique du contexte politique, du processus politique et du systeme politique et de leurs relations aux structures discursives
The Language of Politics
  • Beard Adrian
Beard Adrian (2000). The Language of Politics, New York: Routledge.
Principles of Pragmatics
Leech Geoffrey. (1983). Principles of Pragmatics, New York: Longman.
A Dictionary of Communication and Media Studies
  • J R Watson
  • A Hill
Watson J. R. and Hill A. (1993). A Dictionary of Communication and Media Studies, London: Edward Arnold.