Masaryk university faculty of education



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Semantics

The effectiveness of semantics in Obama’s speech can be compared with that of syntax. While neither is Obama’s strongest point, both are well thought through, focusing on the audience. Obama’s vocabulary is not nearly as emotional as Bush’s. To the contrary, it is very controlled and politically correct, using sophisticated expressions like reverberated, eclipse or splinter, elevating the discourse to a presidential level. Table 8.37 documents the top ten words, showing some expected expressions as well some new ones such as allies, change and coalition, perhaps also indicative of changes in the American military policies.

Table 8.37



LIBYA(N)

41

PEOPLE

39

GADDAFI

19

AMERICA(N)

18

MILITARY

18

WORLD

13

POWER

10

ALLIES

9

CHANGE

9

COALITION

8

Obama works with frames and binary conceptualizations, using them mainly within paragraphs, but not always effectively.

Sometimes, the course of history poses challenges that threaten our common humanity and common security - responding to natural disasters, for example; or preventing genocide and keeping the peace; ensuring regional security, and maintaining the flow of commerce.

The example uses humanitarian frames to describe times when “the United States, as the world's most powerful nation, will often be called upon to help,” mixing natural disasters with genocide or the flow of commerce. While the audience will probably infer correctly that America helps every time there is a need, the chosen examples do not fit well together, making the sentence contrived. The majority of Obama’s discourse is, however, managed successfully, like in the example below.



For generations, the United States of America has played a unique role as an anchor of global security and advocate for human freedom. Mindful of the risks and costs of military action, we are naturally reluctant to use force to solve the world's many challenges. But when our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act. That is what happened in Libya over the course of these last six weeks

In this example, Obama uses emotional, patriotic and moral frames, starting with praising America’s uniqueness, stability and support, implying America’s calm and composed nature in times of crises, using a well-chosen adverb to introduce his proposal, mindful. Only then does he mention the risks and cost and the use of force, using another fitting adverb, reluctant. The breaking point comes when Obama brings the entire proposal home, stressing our interests and values, connecting them immediately with a responsibility to act. As a last point, Obama applies these values and interests to the situation in Libya, using it as justification.

Further, the above paragraph also uses a conceptual metaphor. Obama appeals to the responsibility towards our interests and values, and then extends this concept to the involvement in the Libyan Civil War. Later in the speech, he builds on this argument, adding a new dimension of a possible Benghazi massacre and the conscience of the world as also being of interest to America, making a strong public and personal stand about the refusal to let that happen.

We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi - a city nearly the size of Charlotte - could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world. It was not in our national interest to let that happen. I refused to let that happen.

The final part of his argument is also presented through another conceptual metaphor, simply stating that in these circumstances, these problems are important to America and worth solving, calling America the most powerful nation in the world.



These may not be America's problems alone, but they are important to us, and they are problems worth solving. And in these circumstances, we know that the United States, as the world's most powerful nation, will often be called upon to help.

Whether or not Obama’s arguments are ultimately effective is hard to judge, but he certainly uses a combination of appeal to America values, metaphors as well as conceptual metaphors to successfully connect issues that seemingly have nothing to do with one another.





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