By Emilia ‘Efolo’ Amuthenu
WHEN we speak or write, the major goal is to persuade the audience or readers to see and take our lines of argumentation in most cases. We do not just communicate for communication’s sake. “You should not buy hair from shop X because their products are of poor quality,” is an example of what I heard one woman advising the other in the Central Business District of Windhoek one day.
It is fascinating to know that we often use rhetoric or rather rhetorical devices without knowing that we use them.
Rhetoric is defined as the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques.
Rhetoric is used in speeches, daily conversations, songs, poems, culture, advertisements as well as many other aspects.
In rhetoric, we use pathos, logos and ethos which are called rhetorical proofs or devices. These three proofs are used differently with different purposes. Throughout this article, I will take you through the different proofs, when they are used, as well as some examples in which some of these devices are used.
However, the focus of this article will be more on examples taken from various speeches.
My thesis is that a careful choice of words from the English language (or any other language, for that matter) makes it easier for the speaker or writer to persuade his/her audience or readers.
Firstly, let us look at pathos as a rhetorical proof.
Pathos is defined as an element in experience or in artistic representation evoking pity, emotions or compassion. This means that whenever pathos is used, the audience are expected to get emotional. For instance, when the children of the liberation struggle were being forced to leave the SWAPO headquarters, they uttered statements such as: “This is Cassinga 2” – this is a very emotional statement because one will be forced to think about what happened in Cassinga.
Such a statement might even cause one to shed tears because of the history associated with Cassinga.
Another statement that the children of the liberation struggle used is: “Our parents died in the dungeons, do you also want us to die in riverbeds?”
This is also another example of pathos because such a statement is appealing for pity from the law enforcers as well as from politicians. The words “dungeon” and “Cassinga” evoke emotions because they bring back memories of how people died and suffered during the apartheid era.
Ethos will be the second proof that I would like to take you through.
This proof means convincing by the character or the author. We tend to believe people whom we respect. One example that we can use here is when Hillary Clinton told South Africans to follow the former South African President Nelson Mandela. She did that by describing Mandela as, “The man who did so much to shape the history of a free South Africa has never stopped thinking about the future of South Africa.”
Nelson Mandela is one of the most respected African leaders. This is because of what he went through and what he did to sacrifice for the liberation of South Africa. This earned him much respect and as a result, most of the people see him as their role model.
In this case, the listeners or the audience would be persuaded to take what Clinton asked them to do into action because of the special and unique character that was used in the speech.
The last proof that I would like to take you through is logos. Logos is a means of persuading by the use of reasoning.
For instance, President Hifikepunye Pohamba gave the following reasons as to why he thinks it is right to remove the bronze statue of a German cavalryman, at the Independence Museum.
He stated it is important for that statue to be replaced with that of the Founding Father, former president Sam Nujoma because of the “pivotal role he [Nujoma] played in the struggle for freedom and independence of the Republic of Namibia and being the first President of the Swapo Party and the Republic of Namibia”. He further added that it pained him every morning when he woke up to see such a statue.
Having looked at this, one can tell that logos as means of persuasion is being used here because he is reasoning or rather giving his reasons as to why he thinks such a statue must be removed. That will also convince the audience that removing the statue will be the best thing to do.
I will give you three concrete examples to show how a careful choice of words can win the hearts of the audience.
First, “Today, our nation saw evil.” – George W. Bush’s address to the nation after the 9/11 attacks, 11 September 2011.
Second, “You can’t hate the roots of a tree and not hate the tree.” – Malcom X in a speech celebrating African descent, 14 February 1965. Third, “I have nothing to offer you but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” – Winston Churchill, 13 May 1940 speech.
Rhetoric should not only be seen as a political tool but everyone can use it, be it in your class, in church, at work, or even at home. In short, I can say rhetoric is ubiquitous.
• Emilia ‘Efolo’ Amuthenu is a Master of Arts in English student in the Department of Language and Literature Studies, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Namibia (Unam).