Masaryk university faculty of education


Repetition, three part statements and the rule of three



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Repetition, three part statements and the rule of three

Political speeches are characterized by well thought out rhetorical discourse, with phrases or ideas often being repeated for the sake of the argument, but also as simple emphasis. War rhetoric is no exception, and Drabková agrees that “word repetition is used especially in long speeches to hold the speech together but also to emphasize moral values.” (p.2) Repetition can be lexical (repeating words) or grammatical (repeating word classes, tenses, phrases or paragraphs). A particular type of repetition is a three part statement, where a new idea or suggestion is first presented, then emphasized and finally reinforced, thus being skillfully presented three (or more) times. Consider the following example:

We will not ignore… We will not hesitate… We will not rest…


The phrase ‘We will not’ functions not only as a principle cohesive device but also as a topic sentence in each paragraph. According to Beard, three part repetition is closely related to the rule of three, where three, closely related concepts are introduced in a sequence. John Locke’s enlightenment principles, life, liberty and property, which are the basic human rights appearing in his Second Treatise on Government (1689), serve as a good example. Other famous examples of the ‘rule of three’, where one word cannot fully function without the other and where each subsequent word brings more power to the previous ones, include the following:



Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité

Veni,vidi vici

      1. Style

Dealing with style in discourse, in general, is perhaps refreshing, but also complicated. Not only is every discourse unique, but every reader is also unique, shaped by distinctive socio-cultural and ideological influences, among other things. Likewise, every analyst can identify elements in text they deem important, and thus offer a new perspective, which is frequently happening in literary criticism. Verdonk agrees that “stylistic analysis can direct attention to specific linguistic features in a text and so provide textual substantiation for the different kinds of literary effect it might have on the reader.” (p. 67)

Now that the intricacies of stylistic analysis have been noted and considered, attention can be paid to the corpus. Clearly, there are some obvious commonalities concerning style of political speeches. The discourse is rather formal, with a majority of lexical words, used rather implicitly, with occasional sound bites, metaphors and analogies. As stated, the speakers have “alternatives at hand for referring to the same object, the same process, the same fact,” which makes each speech distinctive and inimitable. (Sandig and Selting, p. 138) The level of stylistic analysis will attempt to use critical discourse analysis (CDA), which according to Verdonk “assumes that linguistics choices in texts… are consciously and unconsciously motivated by particular value systems and beliefs and that the resulting discourses are therefore always presented from some ideological perspective.” (p.75) Again, this analysis will offer only linguistic representations of these ideological perspectives and will let the reader decide about its implications. Presumably, the language style of the speeches is carefully crafted to appeal to the audience and to further the acceptance of the message. While some speakers focused on metaphors, others used personal pronouns or emphasized repetitions. All of these particular linguistic choices will be tracked, contrasted and compared.




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