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Rhetorical grammar can be defined as "…art or study of using language effectively and persuasively..." (Winchester, 1998). Writers when trying to put an argument across in the most captivating way to capture the audience with the desired result more effectively use it. Philosophers, politicians, preachers and motivational speakers among others to impart the intended message by captivating the mind of the reader with the flow, rhythm and repetition of the presentation have used rhetorical grammar. Most writers of rhetorical grammar employ punctuations such as a colon or semicolon, or prefer using appositives. This helps in making the writing understandable and more interesting (Winchester, 1998).
Examples of Rhetorical Grammar and Their Structure
The following phrase was a statement by Fredrick Douglass on Independence Day, 1852. Douglass was a former slave who later became a leader of the Abolitionist Movement. He presented the phrase rhetorically as part of a speech he made, targeting the republicans on July 5, 1852. In the speech that is also available at the ‘Freeman Institute’ website, Douglass said thus; "Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? Is that a question for republicans? Is it to be settled by the rules of logic and argumentation, as a matter beset with great difficulty, involving a doubtful application of the principle of justice, hard to understand?" (Douglass, 1852).
Here, Douglass uses questions to argue his case in a manner that flows in rhythm while injecting incisive thought-provoking words meant to arouse interest in the message he was delivering. Douglass, as an anti-slavery campaigner was frustrated by the republicans who were insisting on maintaining slavery in America at a time when the country was being seen as a land of liberty and freedom for all. Abolitionists were a group of Americans who were advocating for the emancipation, freedom and equal rights for African-Americans, most of whom were former slaves themselves (Mintz, 2007). Douglass uses isocolons and appositives to bring out the persuasion that he intends to help change the mindset of those who were still advocating for retention of slavery. When he says that; “….what have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us…?” The use of questions whose answers he never expected from the audience underlines the tone of his message and the desired effect to those listening. The use of sarcasm followed by a question mark in each sentence helps provoke the reader understand the irony of American independence at a time when many African-Americans were still slaves in the same country. The repetitive form of presentation laden with rhetoric helps the author not only engage effectively with his audience, those who listened to him making the speech and the readers who will read the speech at any time.
The following is another example of a statement that uses rhetorical grammar. Michael Harrington is the author of ‘The other America: Poverty in the United States’, a book that sought to highlight poverty in some sections of the American society and the possible ways through which it could be eliminated. At some point in the book, he points out thus; "The means are at hand to fulfill the age-old dream: poverty can be abolished. How long shall we ignore this under-developed nation in our midst? How long shall we look the other way while our fellow human beings suffer? How long…?" (Harrington, 1962). The author here introduces the use of the semicolon to connect two structurally different sentences while trying to pass the message in a more simplistic way. Just like in the first case, the author uses questions to evoke interest and provoke thinking along his line of argument. This style of presenting a case helps create interest and persuasion to the reader easily, therefore, helping in propagating the reception and understanding of the topic well.
Revision of the Example Using a Different Rhetorical Grammatical Strategy
The author of the speech may have changed the rhetorical grammatical strategy in his writing, and this may have changed the rhetorical effect, therefore, creating a different tone and change the persuasion power in the presentation. In the first example of Douglass’ presentation, revision could be done on the statement in a way nearly similar to the following; “…I don’t want to argue about the wrongfulness of slavery: for it is not an issue for the republicans. It can be dealt with as a simple matter, by use of logic and arguments, and through application of easy to understand principles of justice...”
For the case of Harrington’s quoted work above, the presentation would have been through a different application of rhetoric and would have appeared as “..we can fulfill the age old dream of abolishing poverty in America. Yes, we can! We should no longer ignore the poor in our society. No we shouldn’t! We should never turn away from our suffering fellow human beings. No, we should never ever!” It is easy to note how the change in the tone of the statement changes the way the message is delivered. Changing the rhetorical structure of presentations can bring a change that may erode the persuasion power of the statement or that may enhance the persuasion power even more. The revised Harrington quote above uses short punchy clarion-call phrases at the end of every sentence, enhanced by exclamation marks that help in driving the message more forcefully. In the revised Douglass quote, the introduction of a semi-colon introduces a very new dimension in the message delivery. It tries to advance finality about the evils of slavery being something that can be addressed simply through application of just law, but not by the whims of individuals, notably, the republicans.
Rhetoric grammar when well understood and when used appropriately in a phrase or statement helps in enhancing communication. This form of grammar also helps in creating a connection between people and ideas and the way these are presented to the target audience. The result is always achieving by the best possible effect.