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Language and Rhetoric

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Andy Fentem

on 2 June 2016

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Transcript of Language and Rhetoric

Language, the Rhetorical Situation, and Rhetorical Appeals
Andy Fentem

What is a text?
Everything's a text, including images, words, sounds, fashion, body language - you, yourself, are a text.
We know that language is not limited to only words and "texts," e.g. books, letters, poems, etc., further augmenting the claim that everything is a text.
What allows everything to be a text, however, is language, not limited to writing and speaking.
Among othe things, language is communication and can be molded, bent, crafted, manipulated, and tooled to work in many ways.
One major defining characteristic of language, the major part that makes it so malleable, is that language is by natue ambiguous and arbitrary.
How do we go about forming language into something that fits our purposes?
The Rhetorical Situation: Alternating Currents
As the writer/communicator, the audience and text affect us as well as we affect the audience and the text: each facet of effective rhetoric supports, reinforces, and communicates to one another.
Rhetorical Muscle
Language: Power
Language can be powerful, bland, devastating, jovial, encouraging, and disheartening, hence we often must consider what we say and how we say it in every situation - because even a situation is a text. This is the premise of rhetoric and the foundation to all argument.

While listening, write notes on anything confusing, surprising, or clarifying about language, rhetoric, or grammar/usage.
How do you define yourself?
Who are you?
What are you?
By whom/by what are you defined?
At what point does what you are define who you are, and vice versa?
At some point, our perceptions, consciousnesses, and/or society decide what something is or is not.
Definitions and meanings are constantly in flux and always changing as we continue to change within an ever-changing world described by an order of sounds and symbols we call "language."
Language, if a means of communication to others, relies upon a collective agreement with others in order to symbolically mean anything at all. It is otherwise a nonsensical symbolic order, i.e. a nonsensical language.
The Rhetorical Situation:

If beginning with ourselves-the-writers/communicators, then it may seem two considerations remain: audience and text/purpose.
Writer's Reality Check 1
If you write something out of context, you may and probably will be perceived as a fool.
WHAT you write can make you look STUPID.
Considering your audience is the first step to ensuring a smart person like yourself is not perceived as a stupid one.
That means considering WHAT we are writing/saying, HOW we are writing/saying it, and for WHOM for which it is written/said. For this class, our "text" is mostly essay writing and speaking (as in during class discussions). Thus when composing any-given text, we must consider a plethora of different possibilities, e.g. genre, tone, organization, purpose, context, medium, etc.
Writer's Reality Check II
HOW you write something can make you look STUPID.
Considering your audience and text theoretically allows you to effectively write, but that means you must consider you text in the gaze of your audience.
Remember, your audience and text are always staring back at the writer, i.e. you.
Learning to Think and Write Rhetorically
Rhetoric, according to Wayne Booth, is "an ethical art that begins with deep and intense listening and that searches for mutual understanding and common ground as an alternative to violence and war" (Qtd. in
Everyone's an Author
Learning to think rhetorically will serve us well as we negotiate our way through the complexities of life in today's world.
None of us can manage real action ourselves; we need to engage in conversation with others.
Thinking rhetorically begins with
, with being willing to hear the words of others in an open and understanding way, and with paying attention to what others say as a way of getting started on your own contributions to the conversation.
When entering a conversation, whether academic, professional, or personal, take the time needed to understand what is being said rather than rushing to a conclusion or a judgment. This often means first being fully aware of our preconceived and preconditioned opinions, which we should never consider absolute. This enables us to listen carefully to what others are saying and consider what motivates them to do so, to ask ourselves, "Where are they coming from?"

Hear What Others Are Saying, and Think About Why
Considering others' points of view first along with varying angles on any issue will require some tough thinking abut our own stances, i.e. where we are coming from on an issue and why we think as we do. Self-scrutiny helps us clarify our stances on an issue and, perhaps, may even lead us to a revised, refined , or altogether different conclusion; regardless of the type of effect, we stand to gain.
It's therefore important to examine our own motivations in detail, asking ourselves what influences in our lives lead us to think as we do or to take certain positions.
The rhetorical situation utilizes language to serve your purpose(s), whatever it/they may be.
What you write and how you write it can also make you look smart, informed, and bournless. That is a key trait to effective writing.
Aristotelian/Rhetorical Appeals: Ethos, Pathos, & Logos
Aristotle, in his treatise "On Rhetoric", discusses three appeals, or "proofs," to use in making arguments. The three appeals are appeal from credibility (ethos) that generate appeal from the credibility/reputation of the author; logical appeals (logos) that creat appeal from the use of logic or reason; and emotional appeals (pathos) that target the audience's imagination or emotions. Sometimes, this triumvirate is known as the "Aristotelian Triangle."
credibility - trust
emotions - imagination
consistency - logic
Appeal to Credibility:Ethos
Ethos consists of an argument or appeal based on the author's character or reputation. In order to make an effective argument, the author must make the audience believe, respect, and trust him/her. The author's character/reputation thus forms part of the overall effect. Credibility, personality, reputation, and ability to appear trustworthy are key elements of this appeal.
Appeal to Emotions: Pathos
The word "pathos" has cousins in the words "sympathy," "empathy," "pathetic," and "pathology." People lareglye act on their emotions. We might change minds through reason, but people mostly act on emotion; thus our ability to tap into a human audience's compassion, anger, empathy, idealism, and joy are the most effective in terms of getting people to do something. In order to effectively persuade, we must know what our audience will respond to, what will captivate them, and what will spur them into action.
Appeal to Logic: Logos
An appeal to logic concerns most of what we would call the proof or evidence in an argument or the facts, support, and backing provided to make an argument. In order to make appeal to logic, we do not need to mention our credentials or try attempt generating an emotional reaction; simply providing citable and well-documented facts, statistics, examples, and statements from experts is the purpose. This also means putting these pieces of together in such a way that our conclusion inevitably arises from our evidence.
Some theorists use these three rhetorical appeals to discuss the Rhetorical Triangle, i.e. Audience, Writer, and Text.
They also apply to the rhetorical triangle as we know it.
Appeal to credibility connects to the author point of the rhetorical triangle, where the appeal is made through the author's character. Emotion appeal connects to the audience point because the audience must engage with the author and the text largely through imagination and emotion. Logical appeal aligns with the text point because logos refers to the purposive argument itself.
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Thinking and writing rhetorically means being intellectually flexible and fair, able to hear and consider varying and sometimes conflicting points of view.
Even when disagreeing with a point of view (or especially when disagreeing with it) allowing ourselves to see the issue from the viewpoint of its advocates before rejecting their positions makes us better arguers, speakers, and writers.
In other words, the rhetorical situation applies to the audience as well as to the communicator/writer. While critically listening to what others have to say also means critically listening to ourselves. To rhetorically consider an audience informs the text, but that is rarely enough. Being aware of things like preconditioned opinions, preconceived stances, and preemptive agendas when constructing that text necessitates a rhetorical self-awareness in equally important ways.
What is this?
Take a few minutes to jot down or discuss a moment in our pasts where we jumped into a conversation, discussion, or argument that didn't go very well. Was our ineffectiveness within that conversation due to not listening in order to establish the context first? Was it due to misunderstanding someone else's perspective? Was it due to a preconditioned perspective?
Which rhetorical appeal do you think is most effective when writing a college essay? List each appeal from most important to least in this context. Consider the rhetorical situation of the college essay: papers written to professors and professionals in scholarly and academic fields of study who usually call for formally written essays in response to most subject areas.
This video of The Daily Show with John Stewart, September 23, 2014 (beginning around 2:53) depicts a particular clash of rhetorical appeals. On your paper, identify the medium (text), the author, and a basic description of the viewing audience. While watching the video, identify what rhetorical appeals are present and which is dominant throughout the clip.
This video features a Ted Talk by Mel Robinson entitled, "F--- You: How to Stop Screwing Yourself Over". Based on the implications, what might we infer this presentation is about? What rhetorical appeal would be necessary to appeal to an audience of scholars and academics?
The caption beneath her video reads, "Mel Robinson is a married mother of three, and ivy-league educated criminal lawyer, and one of the top career relationship experts in America. Widely respected by her grab-'em-by-the-collar advice and tough love, Robinson drills between the mental clutter that stands between people and what they want . . ."
How does this caption appeal to her audience? What type of appeal does the blurb utilize?
A few questions to consider while listening: How does Fry confirm and conform to the rhetorical situation, writer-audience-text? How does differentiate and modify it? What is Fry's overall message? (See if you can put it in a single sentence.)
Take a moment to jot down a moment when your writing has made some kind of change, or describe an event when you recognized the power of words.
Note: You'll need a sheet of paper and something to write with as you interact with this presentation. Additional notes that you want to keep should be jotted on a separate sheet or elsewhere.
Rhetorical Analysis
"Rhetorical analysis" is a term that refers to analyzing a text based on its rhetorical situation. In other words, it's determining the author's context in writing the text, the audience to which the author was writing, and the medium the author chose to create in effect (i.e. the text).
Rhetorical analysis also considers the types of appeals the author uses in order to most effectively made her point. This means identifying the major type of appeal utilized, be it an appeal to emotion, to credibility, or to logic and reason.
While all of these appeals can be used in a single text, it is almost certain that one type of appeal will dominate the text, and the effectivness of the text will be determined by how the audience reacts to the text.
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