Study notes on oratorical techniques used by speakers to achieve their purpose

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What different techniques do pro/anti racist speakers use in order to persuade the listener and achieve their purpose?Through research, I came to the realization that the techniques used by speakers on each side of the debate are quite similar. The sole difference is in HOW the techniques are used. I will prove this claim by discussing and comparing techniques used by each speaker in the main facets that define successful oratory, these being Audience Connection, choice of words, and structure. The actual delivery of the speech is not covered, due to the fact that I could not find Audio recordings for some of the speeches. Furthermore, the use of dishonest devices will not be discussed as it is covered in a later question. Martin Luther King uses positive and negative connotations (language technique) in his “I have a dream” speech to help him achieve his purpose. An “oasis of freedom” is looked upon favourably by King.

The word ‘oasis’ is defined as; ‘a fertile spot in the desert where water is found’. By saying this, King is suggesting that freedom from segregation will promote a fertile nation – a nation in which “… the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood”. Equality enables everyone to reach their full potential and through his positive language King voices this belief. Equality fosters a strong and ‘fertile’ nation.

King employs a negative connotation in stark contrast with the positive one to further prove his point and achieve his purpose. “The heat of injustice” implies that injustice will create friction between the two races and create trouble. A term commonly used today, ‘heat’ in fact defines the amount of attention you have from the police – the higher the heat the more attention you have due to being in trouble. King was talking about trouble in terms of peaceful protest not the latter. Heat is also synonymous with thirst and drought. By saying this, King is revealing that injustice will cause the country to be in a metaphorical drought and unable to reach its full potential.

Hitler uses the same language technique, but for the exact opposite. He uses the technique to convince people that the Jews are inferior and bad for Germany whereas King employs it to reveal that racism and segregation is in fact bad for the country. “Don’t think you can fight racial tuberculosis without taking care to rid the nation of the carrier of that racial tuberculosis. This Jewish contamination will not subside; this poisoning of the nation will not end…”By referring to the Jews as a contagious disease and something poisonous Hitler is heightening the hatred of them that many German people already have. A disease is something that you want to get rid of, this is Hitler’s intended effect and he wants the German people to realise this too. As you can see, both speakers use connotations but to serve a completely different purpose. King uses them to show us that segregation and unfair rights based on racial terms is bad for America’s development (thus the association of oasis and freedom contrasted to heat with injustice) whereas Hitler uses the same technique to convince us that segregation and racism are the only ways for Germany to prosper; he believes the Jews are ‘poisoning’ Germany.

Both speakers also use exclamation marks (structural technique) to help achieve their purpose. Interestingly, they both use the technique to create the same effect, a sense of urgency. Hitler urges, “...Total separation, total segregation!” from the Jews. No half measures with Mr.Hitler here. Delivered with a ‘do or I’ll kill you expression’, I was certainly persuaded into believing what the lunatic had to say. Comparatively, King urges “Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado!” King wants to inspire the listener with his lyrical language (comparing freedom to snow-capped Rockies – metaphor) and create a sense of urgency at the same time. As a listener, I certainly felt inspired and a great hunger for freedom.

Somewhat of a cliché as far as speaking devices go, the personal pronoun ‘we’ (audience connection) was also used by both speakers. Again, for a different effect. Predictably, Hitler states “We swear we are not going to abandon the struggle until the Last Jew in Europe has been exterminated and is actually dead.” After researching into some German history, I came to the conclusion that this message was mainly for the ears of non-Germans. At the time, Hitler and over crowded Germany suggested that other nations, such as America, take in the Jews. However, these nations were not so keen. I understood this sentence to be a threat to the other nations. I came to believe that ‘we’ was used in an imposing manner in this sentence, context considered. The emphasis on ‘we’ highlights that it is not just Hitler that advocates the extermination of the Jews but every German. The collective ‘we’ of the whole nation sounds much more ominous and threatening and would therefore make many nations think again about refusing the Jews. With the whole nation behind him, the proposed fate of the Jews seems much more realistic.

King also uses the personal pronoun ‘we’. “We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline”. The effect of using ‘we’ works like this; it makes the listener realise that there are no exceptions; we all must act like this. The ‘you’re part of the team’ mentality comes into play here. If you don’t act in a dignified and disciplined manner then you are letting us down. King knows that violence seldom promotes change; it just hardens the governments’ heart and shuts the door to change. So, everyone must act accordingly if they want to see a significant change for the black civil rights issue in America. Secondly, it makes everyone feel like they are part of the team and that THEY PERSONALLY are in some small way helping bring about change in America by acting with ‘dignity and discipline’.

As you can see, specific techniques are not aligned with a specific purpose. In other words, select orators do not use different techniques but use the same techniques differently. As long as it is aligned with the purpose of the speech and get’s the message across then ‘bravo’. There is no secret code that says that pro racist speakers cannot use a paradox, and vice versa. From what my research suggests, the orator uses the most appropriate technique to deliver his message in the most efficient and effective was as possible. King uses language techniques, structural techniques and audience connection techniques, - and Hitler likewise. King wants segregation and racism to end whereas Hitler welcomes both of these with open arms. So, do pro/anti racial speakers use different techniques to get their messages across to the audience? To answer in a blunt manner, no. They use the technique that best gets their message across and achieves their purpose. To illustrate this with an analogy, why should a builder use a wrench to bang in a nail when he has the more suited to the job hammer at his disposal?To what extent are dishonest devices used on each side of the debate?After analysing my speeches, I realised that Martin Luther King (anti racism) rarely uses dishonest devices. I will discuss why this is the case later on in my response. His use of dishonest devices seemed to start and end with negative image projection. An example of this is “…Dark and desolate valley of segregation”. By using the world ‘desolate’, King wants us to realise that segregation creates more than the obvious physical barriers between races (transport, work places, etc). The dictionary defines ‘desolate’ as giving an impression of bleak and dismal emptiness and associates the word with feeling wretched or unhappy. The Negro people are separated from the whites in not only physical ways but in morality also. Through segregation, the message given to the Negro is brutally simple. ‘You are inferior’. Obviously, both white man and black man are no different in terms of physicality. There are physically strong white men and black men - their physical limitations are no different. The ‘inferiority’ that segregation places upon the Negro causes many white people to think of them as bad people and lacking the morals and beliefs of the white man. Consequently, the Negroes are then treated as subhuman which causes them to feel ‘wretched and unhappy’.

King calls it a ‘valley of segregation’ for a reason. A valley is an area of low ground surrounded by high ground, usually hills or mountains. This is an illusion. Segregation causes the Negro to begin life at the bottom of the pile. Segregation can be nothing other than a valley; it prevents Negroes from rising out of their poverty and illiteracy, therefore leaving them permanently at the bottom of the social strata. The word ‘dark’ is synonymous with evil. King wants us to realise that segregation is sadistic and the repercussions are far greater than the actual physical barriers. I found this use of negative image projection very effective because it helped me to thoroughly understand the colossal effects that segregation has on its victims.

Hitler, however, uses many dishonest devices. “Only when this Jewish bacillus infecting the life of the people has been removed can one hope to establish a co-operation amongst the nations which shall be built up on lasting understanding.” This use of circular reasoning implies that Germany can only co-operate with other nations once the Jews have been removed. I perceived this to be a threat, ‘we will not co-operate until the Jews are eradicated from Germany’. This is effective because it sends out the message that Germany is serious and has every intention to solve the ‘Jewish problem’. Additionally, this statement also displays ‘Argumentum ad Hominen’. Hitler is directly attacking the Jews when he refers to them as parasitic bacteria. This relays a strong message to the people of Germany, it tells them that the Jews are ‘infecting’ them and therefore ‘justifies’ the need to ‘remove’ the bacillus infection ( the Jewish people) for the greater good of Germany.

Similarly, statements such as “Why does the world shed crocodiles tears over the richly merited fate of a small Jewish minority” and reference to the Jewish people as ‘parasites’ and other repugnant adjectives are used for the same or similar effect. By incessantly using dishonest devices to rubbish the Jewish people, Hitler’s message of anti-Semitic hate becomes lodged into the listener’s brain, which is what Hitler intended.

Is it fair to say that anti-racial speakers use a minimal amount of dishonest devices and that pro-racial speakers rely on them excessively? No. Just because one speaker uses these devices to achieve his purpose does not mean that other speakers fighting for the same cause do. Hitler recognized that the wave of appeasement sweeping through Europe at the time would enable him to stand an aggressive stance in order to achieve his aims. Therefore, Hitler acted accordingly and adopted an aggressive stance. He was in power at the time, and thus controlled the media and government. In other words, he could say what he liked with minimal fear of retribution.

King, on the other hand, was a pastor with little power and could not get away with whatever he wanted. He was trying to persuade the American government into breaking the shackles of segregation. Taking this into consideration, he deemed it unwise to rub the government up the wrong way, as aggression, in this circumstance, would have prevented change. Your upbringing and personal beliefs also have some influence on your speaking style. As a pastor and a Christian, King was hardly going to racially abuse white people, was he? Malcolm X, another speaker advocating the abolishment of segregation in America at the time, was much more aggressive than King and believed that you had to be firm if you wanted to be taken seriously. In, summation, what you’re speaking about has little or no effect on the amount of dishonest devices you employ. Circumstance, upbringing, and beliefs define your stance towards the topic at hand, and how you go about getting your message across to the audience. As Kal Penn (Van Wilder 2) says, there is more than one way to skin a mongoose.

Using your analysed speeches as the basis for your discussion, how and why have racism speeches changed over time?I realised that the language utilised in the 1920-1940 time bracket was very blunt and to the point. “No German can be expected to live under the same roof as Jews. The Jews must be chased out of our houses and our residential districts and made to live in rows or blocks of houses where they can keep to themselves and come into contact with Germans as little as possible.” Here Hitler outlines what must happen for the desired outcome to be achieved; he wastes no time with pleasantries, he just gets his message across firmly - the use of the imperative ‘must’ proves this. I found this approach to be very effective, because it shows us that Hitler is not to be messed with. The certainty in his statements (portrayed through the use of must) shows the listener that he is a strong and confident leader; this therefore makes people more willing to believe what he has to say. Obviously, if a leader is not sure of himself then many people will be reluctant to follow him.

Kings speeches, of the 1960s, are very indulgent in terms of the time taken to get the message across to the audience. In his ‘I’ve been to a mountaintop’ speech, King states, “ I would even come to the day of the Renaissance, and get a quick picture of all the Renaissance did for the cultural and aesthetic life of man…” Obviously, this statement has no direct correlation to racism. King’s purpose for including this and other similar statements is to arouse the emotions of the listener. Once this is achieved, he eventually gets back to the topic at hand. This is effective because it causes the listener to feel passionate about the cause, thus making them more likely to do something about it. Personally, I believe this type of language to be ineffective. The majority of the audience is made up of black people. Due to segregation, I think that it is fair to say that many of these black people were slaves and were therefore illiterate. So, to talk about the Renaissance is not relevant, audience considered. Many of the black people could not spell, nor read, nor write, so how can you expect them to know what the renaissance is? If the listener cannot understand what you are talking about then you are wasting words. In order to achieve the desired effect, King would have needed to speak in simper terms.

Obviously, racial speeches have changed overtime, but why? Why are the speeches so different in terms of the speakers approach to the debate? I believe this is determined by external forces. Such as societal values at the time, the place of the speech, the current events, morals of the speaker, and of course the specific event which the speaker is discussing. For example, around the 1920-40 time frame, war was looming. Hitler had to be firm and demanding otherwise he could have been perceived as weak. When your intentions are to wipe out a whole race based on racial grounds, you cannot show weakness or you will be challenged. As my example illustrates, there are reasons why speakers choose to approach the topic in a different manner. It is not the era that defines the make up of your speech but the circumstances. Orators approach the speech differently, depending on the circumstances, not the ERA.