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Revitalizing Endangered Languages

Edited by Justyna Olko & Julia Sallabank

Revitalizing Endangered Languages "This guidebook provides ideas and strategies, as well as some background, to help with the effective revitalization of endangered languages. It covers a broad scope of themes including effective planning, benefits, wellbeing, economic aspects, attitudes and ideologies."

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Dissertation Information

Title: The Rhythm of Political Oratory Add Dissertation
Author: Varvara Danilina Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: Moscow State University, Department of Foreigh Languages
Completed in: 2002
Linguistic Subfield(s): Discourse Analysis; Sociolinguistics;
Subject Language(s): English
Director(s): Ludmila Minaeva

Abstract: My doctoral dissertation was completed after four years of research on the rhythm of British and American political oratory. I sought to establish the rhythmic norm for political public speech and to find out, whether any deviations from this norm (i.e. from an expected rhythmic model) influence listeners and provoke their verbal reactions or bursts of applause. To accomplish this task I used a variety of linguistic and rhetorical methods, and drew upon social psychology and political science.

There is no single linguistic perspective on speech rhythm. For instance, such distinguished scholars as D. Crystal and D. Abercrombie regard it as a purely phonetic phenomenon. At the same time, according to Moscow University school of thought, to which I belong, speech rhythm is created by a blend of phonetics, syntax and meaning of an utterance. As a result of my research, I established rhythmic regularities for political oratory at five levels.

Firstly, I analyzed pauses that divide the stream of speech into segments (syntagmas), and classified all the pauses into syntactic, rhetorical or unintentional (unintentional pauses are caused by hesitation, deliberation, stammering, interruptions by listeners, etc). Secondly, I established the relative frequency of short, medium and long syntagmas between pauses, and thirdly, analyzed the rhythmic structures constituted by linear sequences of syntagmas. Fourthly, I studied the alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables inside syntagmas. And finally, I considered all kinds of repetitions, both rhetorical and unintentional. This method of rhythmic analysis is based on earlier analytical models designed by my university colleagues. My own contribution consisted in adapting this method to the study of public speech, describing the typical rhythm of political oratory, and challenging some popular assumptions about speech rhythm.

As for the impact of speech rhythm upon listeners, I started by analyzing audiences in order to understand psychological, social and political conditions of that process. G. Le Bon, Z. Freud and other scholars demonstrated conclusively that members of a crowd (and the audience of a public speech is a crowd) are connected with each other and with their leader (in our case, a speaker) by strong subconscious ties. However, the degree of unity or polarization of an audience may differ. Besides, each audience can be characterized according to several other criteria that determine listeners’ responsiveness and the nature of their responses: their emotional state, the level of expertise in a particular subject, the demographic and social characteristics (age, gender, ethnicity, social status, occupation, education), the existing evaluation of discussed issues, which is largely determined by listeners’ ideologies, and finally, the attitude to the speaker, which can be positive, negative or indifferent. I have applied this model of audience analysis to determine peculiarities of the British parliamentary audience in October 1996, and of the US Congress in the aftermath of September 11, 2001.

To analyze the reactions of these audiences to the rhythm of Prime Minister Major and President Bush’s parliamentary addresses I used M. Atkinson’s version of the conversation analysis method. I showed the two speeches as dialogues between the speakers and their listeners, and singled out phrases and syntagmas that immediately preceded audience responses, such as cheering, booing, laughter or bursts of applause. These phrases and syntagmas happened to be quite similar in terms of rhythm to other stretches of speech in the same addresses. Moreover, there proved to be little rhythmic difference between John Major and George Bush’s speeches. In short, my research demonstrated that there is no direct interconnection between the rhythm of a public address and audience responses.