Overview of Activity 5

The reading, on-line lesson, and assignment for this module focus on linguistic (verbal) style in oral communication and differences and similarities in written, oral and visual communication. Some of these ideas and principles relate to style in verbal communication (written and spoken), but are especially focused on stylistic choices in public speaking situations.

"Style" in this context relates primarily to the syntactical aspect of verbal, oral messages—that is, to word choice and to how those words are strung together.

There are written transcripts for the full speeches that you are asked to listen to, as well as for some of the other examples. To get the fullest benefit, you might want to read the speeches as you listen to them.

See the calendar for due date.

Learning Objectives:

After completing this activity, you will:

Related Reading:

Online lesson in this activity

Step 1:

Before proceeding with this module, you should read “Everyday Rhetoric” in the textbook. Note that this reading is from an English class composition textbook; it labels oral communication as verbal communication, and differentiates it from written communication. In communication classes, we consider written communication and oral communication to be two different types of verbal communication.

Step 2:

Online Lesson

Read and listen to the following explanations, definitions and examples of oral stylistic devices:

One of the ways that oral style differs from written style is the need for oral messages to be more immediately memorable. Since listeners don't have "rewind buttons" it is important that key ideas be phrased in ways that they can be easily recalled.

For example, take this line from the opening to Star Trek, a line which many people can recall, not only because of sheer repetition, but also because it is phrased in a memorable way:

"… to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before."

Note that many of the examples, like the one from Star Trek, use and/or can be labeled as using more than one stylistic device.

Here are some specific stylistic devices which can be employed effectively by public speakers:

1. Repetitive language involves repeating the same word or phrase, often at the beginning or end of a series of sentences, or at the beginning or end of each main point (or paragraph).


In his eulogy for President Kennedy, Adlai Stevenson began five succeeding paragraphs with the phrase "We shall not soon forget…."

In an address at the University of Oregon, Geraldine Ferraro, the first female vice-presidential candidate, said, "You care about arms control. You care about the environment. You care about personal freedom"

In his "I Have a Dream" speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. uses repetitive language at least five different times, including nine successive sentences with the phrase "I Have a Dream," building to the climax of his speech.

Listen to King's speech. Go to Top 100 Speeches, then to All Speeches by Decade, which you will find in the frame on the right . Between 1961-1970 you will find “I Have a Dream” on August 28, 1963.

2. Repetitive structures can use similar or different words or phrases, but utilize the same general structure several times, such as question-answer. Repetition can help cement ideas in people's minds and can help build the energy or momentum of a speech.


What can you do? You can act. What should you do? What is right. What will you do? What you are able.

Ecclesiastes 3: "For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal…" (note the use of both repetitive language and repetitive structure).

Star Trek: "… to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before." Go to: and read the evolution of the opening narration. Then listen to William Shatner’s narration of the opening.

3. Triads are a specific type of repetition in which the presentation of words or phrases are in groupings of three. Three is an important, perhaps archetypical, number for humans. Use of triads helps to improve retention and recall and can add force to an idea.


Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence: "…life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Martin Luther King, Jr.: "Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we are free at last." This is the ending of the “I Have a Dream” speech.

Star Trek: "…to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before." You have read and listened to the Star Trek opening.

4. Antithesis is a stylistic device which presents a compressed contrast. This contrast or apparent contradiction, if phrased eloquently, can also be highly memorable.


Martin Luther King, Jr.: "They were sitting down at lunch counters, but they were standing up for freedom."

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1st Inaugural Address: "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Listen to FDR’s inaugural address . Go to Top 100 Speeches. You will find this speech on March 4, 1933.

Fred Hampton (leader of the Black Panther Party): "You can jail a revolutionary, but you can't jail the revolution."

Neil Armstrong, upon stepping on the moon: "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Listen to Armstrong on the moon. Go to Figures in Sound, then to Antithesis.

Adlai Stevenson, on Winston Churchill: "He could lead them in war because he had respected them in peace."

5. Metaphor is used to present a new, unfamiliar, abstract or difficult idea by comparing it to something more familiar, simple or concrete. A metaphor is a type of analogy, which is a comparison of two things for the purpose of clarification.


Martin Luther King, Jr., "I Have a Dream" speech: "It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity." This statement occurs early in the speech.

William Jefferson Clinton, 1996 campaign slogan: "We will build a bridge to the 21st century."

Mario Cuomo, speaking to the 1984 Democratic National Convention and responding to President Ronald Reagan's metaphoric characterization of the U.S. as a "shining city on a hill" with a criticism of growing economic disparities in the US: "Mr. President, you ought to know, that this nation is more a tale of two cities than it is just a shining city on a hill."

In Apocalypse Now, Marlon Brando’s Kurtz calls his assassin, “… an errand boy… sent by grocery clerks… to collect a bill.” Listen to Kurtz. Go to Figures in Sound, then to Metaphor.

6. Imagery is language that engages the senses and imaginative capacities of the audience. Imagery typically uses metaphorical language to create pictures in the minds of listeners (or readers).


Ronald Reagan in his eulogy to the Challenger astronauts said, "They waved good-bye and slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God." You can watch, listen to and/or read Reagan's speech. Go to Top 100 Speeches. You will find this speech on January 28, 1986.

William Jennings Bryan, accepting the Democratic nomination for President in 1900 and arguing against US imperialism: "Behold a republic standing erect while empires all around are bowed beneath the weight of their own armaments."

Wendell Phillips, abolitionist address eulogizing a hero of the African slaves of Santo Domingo: "Lady Liberty…dipping her pen in the sunlight, will write in the clear blue, above them all, the name of the solider, the statesman, the martyr, Toussaint L'Ouverture" (note use of triad as well).

7. Other Stylistic Devices include alliteration, analogy, oxymoron, paradox, personification, rhetorical questions, simile and more. Take a look at all the stylistic devices listed in Figures in Sound.

8. Multiple Stylistic Devices. Often times, two or more of these devices will be combined. In the following passage, Jefferson Davis uses repetitive language, repetitive structure, a triad, and imagery. Can you identify them?

Jefferson Davis, from his speech "On Withdrawal from the Union": "Mississippi…surrenders all the benefits (and they are known to be many), deprives herself of the advantages (and they are known to be great), severs all the ties of affection (and they are close and enduring), which have bound her to the Union

Step 3:

Test Your Understanding

Listen to a Barbara Jordan's 1976 keynote address to the Democratic National Convention. Go to Top 100 Speeches. You will find this speech on July 12, 1976.

As you listen, take notes, identifying some of the stylistic devices listed above. (You may want to print out the definitions and examples from Step 2). Identify what you hear as the dominant stylistic device used by Jordan and identify a few examples. Once you are finished, proceed to Step 4.

Step 4:

The dominant stylistic device used by Barbara Jordan is repetition, both repetitive language and repetitive structure.

First, Jordan uses repetitive language and structure with the repeated phrase "I could…" often followed by "But I don't choose to do that," as in these excerpts:

"I could easily spend this time praising the accomplishments of this party and attacking the Republicans, but I don't choose to do that."

"I could list the many problems which American have…."

"I could recite these problems, and then I could to sit down, and offer no solutions, but I don't choose to do that either."

Second, Jordan uses repetitive structures which are strongly reinforced by her vocal delivery. For example, in listing "the problems which cause people to feel cynical, angry, frustrated," she uses a parallel form or repetitive structure:

"the lack of integrity in government,
the feeling that the individual no longer counts,
the reality of material and spiritual poverty,
the feeling that the grand American experiment is failing or has failed."

This is not an especially strong example of repetitive structure—that is, the structure here is somewhat loose, but its strength is enhanced by Jordan's delivery of these lines, in which she uses pauses, emphasis, tone and volume to further highlight the parallel structure.

Third, Jordan uses repetitive structure and language again when she says:

"We are a people in a quandary about the present.
We are a people in search of our future.
We are a people in search of a national community.
We are a people trying not only to solve the problems of the present—unemployment, inflation—but we are attempting on a larger scale to fulfill the promise of America.
We are attempting to fulfill our national purpose, to create and sustain a society in which all of us are equal."

Notice how the use of repetition, as in the above example, can help build to the climax of the speech or a section of it.

Finally, Jordan uses several triads, though these are not as prominent as her use of repetition.

"…the problems which cause people to feel cynical, angry, frustrated."

"The citizens of American expect more, they deserve and they want more, than a recital of problems."

Step 5:

Listen to John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address. Go to Top 100 Speeches. You will find this speech on January 20, 1961.

Step 6:

View and listen to at least any four of the speeches on the Election 2004 CD ROM.

Step 7:


For this analysis, which includes an essay, you will write about King's “I Have a Dream" speech and Kennedy's Inaugural Address. You will also write original sentences using various stylistic devices. For the essay, you will analyze speeches from Election 2004.

  1. In Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream" speech, identify three other examples, besides “I Have a Dream,” of King’s use of repetitive language. In complete sentences describe which words are repeated and the number of times that they are repeated.

    So, for one of the three examples, you will write something like: King says ‘I have a dream’ nine times in this speech.
  2. List, in complete sentences, one example from Kennedy's Inaugural Address of each of the following types of stylistic devices and explain why it is an example of that type:

    a. Repetitive structure
    b. Repetitive language
    c. Antithesis
    d. Imagery and/or metaphor

    For example, you would write something like: Kennedy uses repetitive structure when he says, “… symbolizing an end as well as a beginning – signifying renewal, as well as change.” (You must find another example.)
  3. Write an original sentence using any one of the five stylistic devices discussed in the Online Reading (repetitive structure, repetitive language, antithesis, imagery and/or metaphor) and identify which stylistic device it is.
  4. In about a 250 word essay, evaluate any two of the Election 2004 CD ROM speeches. Which one is better and why? Are either of the speeches more or less effective due to the speaker’s use of any of the stylistic devices you have learned about in this activity?
  5. Go again to Identify and define two Figures in Sound that have not been defined in this activity. You may use those that were identified but not defined in #7 of Step 2 above, or any others that interest you. Write an original sentence for each of the two Figures of Sound that you have defined.

Step 8:

(Save the name of your file using your full first and last name, followed by the assignment number, which is 5. ATTENTION: Your file must be saved in Microsoft Word (.doc) or Rich Text Format (.rtf) Saving in formats unrecognized by the Assignment Drop Box (such as WordPerfect or Microsoft Works) will make your document unreadable and may result in a grade of 0 (zero) for the assignment.

(Turn in your essay by following the Essay link under the Table of Contents at the left, or you can access assignments in the top tool bar.)

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