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Figuring out political rhetoric : a content analysis of the use of rhetorical figures by Flemish politicians

Edward De Vooght (UGent) , Sarah Van Leuven (UGent) and Liselot Hudders (UGent)
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Organization
Abstract
Political rhetoric has fascinated scholars ever since the Antiquity and rhetorical figures have always played a central role both in theory and practice (Charteris-Black, 2018). The vast body of literature on political discourse has already brought forth detailed rhetorical analyses of individual speeches (Toye, 2010), general insights in the use of rhetoric by politicians (Amsalem et al., 2017) and extensive studies into the use of rhetorical figures such as metaphors (Ferrari, 2007). However, unlike the field of advertising studies, where scholars have observed which rhetorical figures are often used (McQuarrie & Mick, 1996), it remains largely unknown which rhetorical figures beyond metaphors are used by politicians and which contextual factors might influence this use. The present study attempts to tackle these issues to provide a broader understanding of the political use of figures. For the study of political rhetoric such an understanding is crucial because rhetoric is not just the mere sum of strategically employed figures, but also a culturally embedded practice (Kennedy, 1998). Consequently, understanding the broad practice is vital in order to study particular speeches or speakers as some strategic figure uses might only emerge by comparison. Therefore, a quantitative content analysis was conducted of the use of rhetorical figures by Flemish politicians during the municipal elections in Flanders on 14 October 2018. The sample consisted of 25 speeches delivered by politicians from different parties in varying contexts such as the election results (victory-loss), the presence of national press, the national or local image of the politician, the size of the municipality in which the speech was delivered and the level of formality, which was based on factors such as stage presence, microphone use and the announcing of the speaker. A strong intercoder reliability was achieved with Alpha Krippendorff values ranging between 0.741 and 1. Our sample displayed 895 rhetorical figures of 51 different types, which were employed at an average rate of 8 figures per 100 words. The most popular rhetorical figures were word repetitions (conduplicatio, 19,3%), repetitions of the phrase beginning (anaphora, 14%), metaphors (13%), argument repetitions (commoratio, 7,4%) and enumerations of three (tricolon, 5,4%). Eight rhetorical categories were established: repetitions, enumerations, substitutions, rhymes, syntheses, oppositions, interactions and emotional figures. Notwithstanding the aforementioned variety, repetitions and substitutions alone comprised 71% of all figures found in our corpus. Enumerations (13%) and interactions (10%) were also frequently observed albeit to a lesser extent. This seemed to be a general trend regardless of speaker or party membership. Concerning the contextual factors, the use of rhetorical categories did not correlate with the election results (victory-loss). However, the formality of the event did appear to be an important factor as informal speeches (count 10) displayed significantly more interactive (16% vs. 5%) and emotional figures (8% vs. 2%) in comparison with the mainly enumerative (15% vs. 6%) formal speeches (count 15). Based on these findings, it is suggested that the general use of rhetorical figures by politicians is largely determined by two rhetorical standards, namely a formal and an informal standard. These standards are dependent of the formality of the context and independent of the election results. The formal rhetorical political standard displays few interactions and emotional figures and is characterised by a dominance of repetitions, substitutions and enumerations. This formal standard was found to be mainly used in speeches delivered in larger cities by politicians with a national public image in the presence of national press. On the other hand, the informal political rhetorical standard is characterised by the low frequency of enumerations and the presence of interactions, emotional figures and repetitions. The informal standard was observed to be mainly employed by local politicians in smaller communities and in the absence of national press. In conclusion, it was observed that politicians use a great variety of figures beyond metaphors. In particular, it was found that repetitions were dominant in almost all cases. These findings call to attention the need to study the use and effect of figures other than metaphors. Moreover, the use of rhetorical figures was found to be more dependent of the context of delivery (formality) than the political reality (election results). Therefore, the traditional believe in the strategic agency of political communication within rhetoric (Martin, 2013) and political communication (Strömbäck & Esser, 2017), could benefit from a perspective shift as rhetoric might not only be strategically but also culturally and even socially determined (Turnbull, 2017). Political speech does not mirror strategic thoughts, but by understanding the general practice, those thoughts might be accessible nonetheless.
Keywords
Rhetoric, rhetorical figures, political communication, speeches, quantitative content analysis, political strategy

Citation

Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:

MLA
De Vooght, Edward, et al. “Figuring out Political Rhetoric : A Content Analysis of the Use of Rhetorical Figures by Flemish Politicians.” Etmaal van de Communicatiewetenschap 2020, Abstracts, 2020.
APA
De Vooght, E., Van Leuven, S., & Hudders, L. (2020). Figuring out political rhetoric : a content analysis of the use of rhetorical figures by Flemish politicians. Etmaal van de Communicatiewetenschap 2020, Abstracts. Presented at the Etmaal van de Communicatiewetenschap 2020 : (Mis)informing the public?, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Chicago author-date
De Vooght, Edward, Sarah Van Leuven, and Liselot Hudders. 2020. “Figuring out Political Rhetoric : A Content Analysis of the Use of Rhetorical Figures by Flemish Politicians.” In Etmaal van de Communicatiewetenschap 2020, Abstracts.
Chicago author-date (all authors)
De Vooght, Edward, Sarah Van Leuven, and Liselot Hudders. 2020. “Figuring out Political Rhetoric : A Content Analysis of the Use of Rhetorical Figures by Flemish Politicians.” In Etmaal van de Communicatiewetenschap 2020, Abstracts.
Vancouver
1.
De Vooght E, Van Leuven S, Hudders L. Figuring out political rhetoric : a content analysis of the use of rhetorical figures by Flemish politicians. In: Etmaal van de Communicatiewetenschap 2020, Abstracts. 2020.
IEEE
[1]
E. De Vooght, S. Van Leuven, and L. Hudders, “Figuring out political rhetoric : a content analysis of the use of rhetorical figures by Flemish politicians,” in Etmaal van de Communicatiewetenschap 2020, Abstracts, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 2020.
@inproceedings{8646675,
  abstract     = {{Political rhetoric has fascinated scholars ever since the Antiquity and rhetorical figures have always played a central role both in theory and practice (Charteris-Black, 2018). The vast body of literature on political discourse has already brought forth detailed rhetorical analyses of individual speeches (Toye, 2010), general insights in the use of rhetoric by politicians (Amsalem et al., 2017) and extensive studies into the use of rhetorical figures such as metaphors (Ferrari, 2007). However, unlike the field of advertising studies, where scholars have observed which rhetorical figures are often used (McQuarrie & Mick, 1996), it remains largely unknown which rhetorical figures beyond metaphors are used by politicians and which contextual factors might influence this use. The present study attempts to tackle these issues to provide a broader understanding of the political use of figures. For the study of political rhetoric such an understanding is crucial because rhetoric is not just the mere sum of strategically employed figures, but also a culturally embedded practice (Kennedy, 1998). Consequently, understanding the broad practice is vital in order to study particular speeches or speakers as some strategic figure uses might only emerge by comparison. 
Therefore, a quantitative content analysis was conducted of the use of rhetorical figures by Flemish politicians during the municipal elections in Flanders on 14 October 2018. The sample consisted of 25 speeches delivered by politicians from different parties in varying contexts such as the election results (victory-loss), the presence of national press, the national or local image of the politician, the size of the municipality in which the speech was delivered and the level of formality, which was based on factors such as stage presence, microphone use and the announcing of the speaker. A strong intercoder reliability was achieved with Alpha Krippendorff values ranging between 0.741 and 1.
Our sample displayed 895 rhetorical figures of 51 different types, which were employed at an average rate of 8 figures per 100 words. The most popular rhetorical figures were word repetitions (conduplicatio, 19,3%), repetitions of the phrase beginning (anaphora, 14%), metaphors (13%), argument repetitions (commoratio, 7,4%) and enumerations of three (tricolon, 5,4%). Eight rhetorical categories were established: repetitions, enumerations, substitutions, rhymes, syntheses, oppositions, interactions and emotional figures. Notwithstanding the aforementioned variety, repetitions and substitutions alone comprised 71% of all figures found in our corpus. Enumerations (13%) and interactions (10%) were also frequently observed albeit to a lesser extent. This seemed to be a general trend regardless of speaker or party membership. Concerning the contextual factors, the use of rhetorical categories did not correlate with the election results (victory-loss). However, the formality of the event did appear to be an important factor as informal speeches (count 10) displayed significantly more interactive (16% vs. 5%) and emotional figures (8% vs. 2%) in comparison with the mainly enumerative (15% vs. 6%) formal speeches (count 15). 
Based on these findings, it is suggested that the general use of rhetorical figures by politicians is largely determined by two rhetorical standards, namely a formal and an informal standard. These standards are dependent of the formality of the context and independent of the election results. The formal rhetorical political standard displays few interactions and emotional figures and is characterised by a dominance of repetitions, substitutions and enumerations. This formal standard was found to be mainly used in speeches delivered in larger cities by politicians with a national public image in the presence of national press. On the other hand, the informal political rhetorical standard is characterised by the low frequency of enumerations and the presence of interactions, emotional figures and repetitions. The informal standard was observed to be mainly employed by local politicians in smaller communities and in the absence of national press.
In conclusion, it was observed that politicians use a great variety of figures beyond metaphors. In particular, it was found that repetitions were dominant in almost all cases. These findings call to attention the need to study the use and effect of figures other than metaphors. Moreover, the use of rhetorical figures was found to be more dependent of the context of delivery (formality) than the political reality (election results). Therefore, the traditional believe in the strategic agency of political communication within rhetoric (Martin, 2013) and political communication (Strömbäck & Esser, 2017), could benefit from a perspective shift as rhetoric might not only be strategically but also culturally and even socially determined (Turnbull, 2017). Political speech does not mirror strategic thoughts, but by understanding the general practice, those thoughts might be accessible nonetheless.}},
  author       = {{De Vooght, Edward and Van Leuven, Sarah and Hudders, Liselot}},
  booktitle    = {{Etmaal van de Communicatiewetenschap 2020, Abstracts}},
  keywords     = {{Rhetoric,rhetorical figures,political communication,speeches,quantitative content analysis,political strategy}},
  language     = {{eng}},
  location     = {{Amsterdam, the Netherlands}},
  title        = {{Figuring out political rhetoric : a content analysis of the use of rhetorical figures by Flemish politicians}},
  url          = {{https://nefca.eu/etmaal/etmaal-van-de-communicatiewetenschap-2020/}},
  year         = {{2020}},
}