Future Of Rhetoric

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Future of Rhetoric in Our Electronic Age

Future of Rhetoric in Our Electronic Age


Rhetoric is the art of persuasion. When we attempt to construct a persuasive message, whether in everyday conversation or while writing an essay for class, we have many decisions to make, not the least of which is our choice of words and the way we string them together in sentences. Of course, when we make these choices in everyday speech and conversation, we do it almost automatically—at lightning speeds. We do not deliberate the way we might if we were writing an essay or composing a public speech. Even in the everyday context, however, most of us take the time to consider our conversational partners and make a concerted effort to choose the best language for the situation and our persuasive aims. We would call this effort “being rhetorically sensitive” to the context. Our rhetorical sensitivity requires us to make choices about whether we will engage in literal or figurative language. Again, this choice is almost automatic in everyday conversation, but it is complicated by the fact that “being literal” is often more difficult than “being figurative.” To use literal language is to strive for accuracy in meaning, to avoid symbolic references and the need for your conversational partner to engage in interpretation. In short, literal language attempts to stay as close to denotative meaning as possible. It is especially ironic that the task of defining literal language is much more difficult than the task of defining figurative language. Why? Because dialect is inherently symbolic. Try this test: the next time you are engaged in a long-distance phone conversation, limit yourself to a literal description of the color of the autumn sky on a sunny, Pullman afternoon. “It is blue,” you say. But what do you signify by “blue”? Can you describe the exact blue of the sky without resorting to comparison or symbolic references? For centuries, Biblical scholars have been engaged in the process of interpreting the Bible, some opting for a “literal translation” of the text, others arguing that it is meant to be understood in figurative terms, especially in those instances where a literal translation seems contrary to historical fact. Figurative language uses figures of speech, such as hyperbole, simile, metaphor, irony and symbolism, or other forms of imagery. It is used to gain impact, freshness of expression, or pictorial effect. It is also used, as in the case of Pullman's blue sky, to narrow the gap between what we mean and how our listener is likely to interpret what we mean. Rhetorical “style” includes the use of figurative language that, in some classification schemes, is divided into the two subcategories of “figures of speech” and “figures of thought.” Figures of speech are defined as those stylistic devices that deviate from normal language (usually) in the order of words or syntax. Figures of thought include those expressions that deviate from common usage mainly in the meaning of words or ...
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