In the following essay I will speak about four of Abraham Lincoln’s works, namely, the Gettysburg Address, the House Divided speech and the two inaugural speeches made by him as a president of the United States of America. In order to better understand these speeches in a greater detail one needs to employ the following frameworks with some of them being explained prior to being implemented: semantics, pragmatics, lexis, grammar and phonetics. In analyzing the speeches of Lincoln one will use them with the greatest focus being placed to those areas that are truly viewed by me as remarkable for these speeches.
The semantics of the language used in the speeches, is a subfield in linguistics that studies the meaning of words, phrases, sentences and texts. Semantics is typically approached from the theoretical and empirical points of view. One needs to study the relationship between different areas. Semantics deals heavily with sense and reference, truth conditions and discourse analysis which one can trace perfectly in all Lincoln’s speeches.
Pragmatics, despite being considered a subset of semantics in linguistics is concerned primarily with bridging the explanatory gap between sentence meaning and speaker’s meaning. Pragmatics represents the study of how context influences the interpretation on a crucial matter. Under the pragmatics the context of Lincoln’s speeches should interpreted as situation as it may typically include some imaginable extra-linguistic factor, that would comprise discourse, social, economic and psychological factors.
Grammar as used in this essay will represent the rules governing the use of language by Lincoln in his speeches. Grammar is part of linguistics, while semantics is a subfield of grammar used together with morphology and syntax.
Lexis, on the other hand is the entire store of single words as well as sets of words that one uses as building blocks or units in the written expression of that language (or oral presentation as it was during Lincoln’s time). one needs to remember that the multi-word element of the lexis is precisely what makes it different from the vocabulary of a language which represents the collection of single words
The Gettysburg address was a short speech of Abraham Lincoln presented in 1863 and concentrating on the notion of civil war that the nation was engaged in. Lincoln pointed out the need for the national dedication to the common goal so that those who died for this nation were remembered. The semantics of the Gettysburg address indeed was rather simple and straightforward as it would clearly tell the audience about the need for the nation to stay firm on the goal and pursue it so that Americans “shall not perish from the earth”.
Pragmatics was also clearly used as the speech would directly tell the nation what needs to be done in simple words without the use of hints or metaphors. The grammar and lexis on the other hand show a masterful skill in using the language as most of the sentences are long and complex making use of logos, pathos and ethos in rhetoric of Lincoln.
The phonetics of Gettysburg address was somewhat awkward in my personal view as the language used in XIX century is different from the one we use in the XXI century. The phonetics make the speech somewhat hard to understand for a typical countryman of Lincoln’s time yet it would make it absolutely clear to the key decision makers of his time.
Another piece of work to be analyzed in the essay is the “house divided” speech of Abraham Lincoln pronounced in 1858. the speech is much longer if compared to the Gettysburg Address and is certainly more complex in its rhetoric and discussion. The semantics of the speech were presented as easy to understand with respect to the actual meaning of the words, yet one has to certainly credit Lincoln for masterful use of lexis in his speech which was reflected in the paraphrase of the New Testament and the professional use of metaphors.
Pragmatics in the “House Divided” speech attempt to accurately hint the audience as to what Lincoln means when he uses the language in the speech. In our case, the metaphor of the divided nation and its relationship to the New Testament signifies that Lincoln had probably believed that it was morally and religiously justified to have a free nation that would pursue similar policies and obey similar rules and laws. In his statements like “the doctrine of “care not whether slavery be voted down or voted up,” one clearly sees that Lincoln despite not objecting slavery with much harshness and severity certainly opposes it with his nature and very self. The use of questions throughout the speech makes us understand that Lincoln calls everyone in the nation to the discussion and points out the most important elements which he personally believes critically impact the United States as a nation.
The grammar of the “divided nation” speech is almost perfect despite Lincoln’s attempt to make extensive use of the questions and appeals to emotion which sound best with simple structure and wording. He managers to put them all in such a consequence which makes the whole speech smooth flowing and easy to follow, albeit not so clearly argued due to the extensive appeal to pathos (emotions).
The lexis was widely used throughout the speech with “squatter sovereignty”, “A house divided against itself cannot stand”, and “sacred right of self-government” statements being easy to remember and follow through the speech. I personally believe that it is the lexis which made this speech the most memorable to me personally of all those analyzed in this essay.
Another speech of Abraham Lincoln which I will analyze in this essay is available online at http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres31.html and is the first inaugural address. This speech boasts rich grammar and vocabulary which certainly show the audience that the selected president is indeed smart and highly educated. The constructions ultimately bring up many questions, which I now believe was a technique of Lincoln to draw the audience’s attention to some detail on which he personally did not want to give his clear opinion yet rather diplomatically hinted regarding his conviction.
The semantics of the first inaugural address was similar to the semantics of the other speeches by Abraham Lincoln noted previously. There had been no significant difference in style, structure, or language compared to other speeches. The text does not make use of idioms or constructions foreign to the audience, thus, every sentence and word in the inaugural address is understandable and easily followed.
The pragmatics were more clearly traced in the use of questions and hints which albeit did not state clearly the president’s opinion, would make everyone understand it when one read between the lines. For instance the question “If the United States be not a government proper, but an association of States in the nature of contract merely, can it, as a contract, be peaceably unmade by less than all the parties who made it?” and “No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall in consequence of any law or regulation therein be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due” clearly show the president’s opinion on some issues related to freedom and slavery as prevailing at that time in the USA.
The grammar and phonetics of the first inaugural address are rich and loaded. Lincoln makes use of what one would nowadays call “SAT words” or “Queens English words” yet these were the very words one used in the US government and haute society that he represented. Once again, Lincoln’s speech due to the rich grammar and phonetics would probably be hard to follow for slaves whom he discussed.
The last but not least speech used in this essay is the Second inaugural address of Abraham Lincoln was created in March of 1865, just a months prior to Lincoln’s assassination and was similar in style, manner and composition to all other speeches created by Lincoln during this service for the USA.
The semantics of the Second Inaugural Speech as it is in the case with other speeches noted earlier, are understandable, despite the rather complex grammar used by Lincoln in his second inaugural address.
The pragmatics of the second inaugural address of Abraham Lincoln were less used by Abraham Lincoln either because now he had the ultimate power necessary to clearly say what he wanted to say without losing support and positional power or probably because Lincoln believed that his smooth speeches of the past did not yield the necessary results he expected for them to bring. The use of the Holy Bible in his speech as seen in the statements “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh” and “”the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” allow one to understand that Lincoln again tried to tie his speech to some authority (in this case represented by the holy bible) to get the most support possible from the target audience for whom the speech was written.
The phonetics of the second inaugural address, seem to be somewhat more appealing than those of the first inaugural address due to the fact that speech was much shorted compared to the first inaugural speech and probably because it would use somewhat simpler grammar and shorter sentences throughout the speech. I can say that the speech is more persuasive due to the fact that it uses a straightforward approach, clear language, appeal to logic, authority and emotion.
The lexis of the second inaugural address was clear and easy to understand in the ways where Lincoln addressed his countrymen and fellow Americans. One would not have some difficult words that one would not clearly understand or have second thoughts as to what they might mean in the speech.
In conclusion, I would like to note that the four speeches of Abraham Lincoln that he used throughout his political career were analyzed in the essay with respect to the rhetoric used in them. One would read the speeches, and take a glance at the issues such as semantics, pragmatics, lexis, grammar and phonetics to better understand these masterpieces of political thought and express.
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Bibliography: Gettysburg Address, http://www.law.ou.edu/hist/getty.html, Accessed: Jan 16th, 2006. House divided speech, http://www.historyplace.com/lincoln/divided.htm, Jan 16th, 2006. First inaugural address, http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres31.html, Jan 16th, 2006. Second inaugural address, http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres32.html, Jan 16th, 2006.