Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

The style of speeches

What is the difference between a minister saying that something is possible or that it is not impossible ?

2008 - 2013
Arie Verhagen
NWO Vrije Competitie NWO Vrije Competitie

What is the difference between a minister saying that something is possible or that it is not impossible ? And what exactly is the rhetorical effect when someone says I don’t want to blame you for Xbut… – thereby exactly blaming the addressee for X (a figure of speech called praeteritio)? Speechwriters do often have global ideas about the effect of certain stylistic devices, but a scientific basis for these intuitive judgements is lacking. 

Maarten van Leeuwen's PhD project is divided in three phases. In phase one, a model for evaluating the effectiveness of the style of speeches will be construed, which will contain both classical rhetorical figures of speech (‘tropes’) and linguistic categories of analysis. The model will be tested by a detailed analysis of two speeches, and adapted where neccessary. The second phase of the project consists of selecting a few phenomena from the model (e.g. antithesis, negation, complementation constructions) and examining how these are actually used in a corpus of speeches. This will lead to hypotheses about the rhetorical effect(s) of these phenomena, which will be tested empirically in the final phase of the project by conducting a series of experiments.

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