Analyzing Language Styles and Tropes

1. Read carefully Frederick Douglass’s “Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln” (attached).  2. Your task for this project is to go through the text with the proverbial “fine-tooth comb.” For this project, you’re focusing primarily, but not exclusively, on Fahnestock’s discussion of tropes (metaphor) and figures (parallelism, etc.) as well as Lanham’s discussion of “tacit persuasion patterns” (a number of patterns in Fahnestock and Lanham overlap although they sometimes use different labels). Identify the important tropes, figures, and patterns that we’ve been discussing. Use Fahnestock, Lanham, and class exercises and discussion to help deepen your understanding of these various language devices.  3. The syntactical concepts of parataxis and hypotaxis are not the central focus of this project. But you should identify the dominant syntactical pattern (and note deviations) during your preliminary analysis and discuss that pattern’s function as part of your interpretation of speech. Also, note the passage from WEB DuBois that we discussed in first language patterns exercise (see PowerPoint slides for visualization of DuBois’s complicated combination of antithesis and parallelism); consider if Douglass’s use of style is similar 4. Do not list each trope, figure, or pattern that you uncover in your paper. Your detailed analysis of the speech is part of the research that prepares you to write the paper (some additional research will most likely be necessary for this paper; more details are provided below).  5. Your paper should, initially, review the range of important tropes and figures present in the speech. Focus on identifying and illustrating the dominant tropes and figures employed in the speech. Dominant tropes and figures are those that (a) occur with great frequency and (b) those whose function is crucial if the speaker is going to negotiate his/her rhetorical situation successfully (note: frequency alone won’t make a trope worth analyzing in-depth).  5a. Provide ample evidence to support your descriptive claims. Make sure you thoroughly describe the important stylistic strategies in the speech. Sentence charting is an excellent way to support your claims re. tropes, figures, patterns, and syntax.  6. Devote approximately 2/3s of the paper to your descriptive summary and supporting evidence.  7. The final 1/3 of the paper should build an interpretation out of your description. Work hard to build your interpretation out of your description. Interpretive insights that are not connected to the descriptive analysis and do not extend on the readings for this unit and class discussion are suspect.  7a. While your paper should reflect a 2/3 description and 1/3 interpretation ratio (as noted above), you need not (as social scientists tend to) isolate interpretation in a section apart from the description. Critics often weave description and interpretation together. Feel free to move immediately from description to interpretation if it will help you explain how Douglass’s tacit persuasion patterns function. 2  8. On what should your interpretative effort for this assignment focus? The basic questions still apply: interpretation is trying to answer the questions “what is going on?” or “how does this text/passage function?” Your interpretive task is to try and figure out how Douglass’s tropes, figures, patterns, and syntax “work,” how they function, or to uncover what they are “doing.” What type of invitations are they making to an audience? Your interpretive work should draw upon Fahnestock and Lanham’s insights as well as class discussions.  9. A word of caution: please avoid vague interpretative statements (saying something like “Douglass’s use of ‘x’ aided his purpose” when you haven’t said anything specific about his purpose) or offering superficial interpretations (saying something like “Douglass’s use of ‘x’ made his speech meaningful or memorable”). Remember, noting that language patterns produce euphony (are memorable or make something stand out) is only a first step. Claiming that tropes, figures, and patterns contribute to euphony does not satisfy the requirement that you interpret the text.  10. As I hope is now clear from previous assignments and multiple class discussions, understanding a speak or writer’s context or rhetorical situation is crucial if you want to understand the rhetorical potential of their style patterns. Understanding Douglass’s rhetorical situation will be essential if you want to produce a superior paper. You should investigate (1) the way the ceremonial occasion and epideictic genre impose certain obligations on Douglass (you can consult the canvas reading on epideictic [in course handouts section] as well as any other sources on the topic you might identify) and (2) any relevant historical/political issues that confronted Douglass and the nation in 1876. You should plan to spend at least one solid paragraph describing Douglass’s rhetorical situation and include this paragraph early in your paper. In his essay “Lincoln Among the Nineteenth-Century Orators,” Michael Leff discusses this speech and provides some potentially useful situational analysis. The essay is in Rhetoric and Political Culture in Nineteenth-Century America, ed. T.W. Benson (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1997). I’ve included with the assignment the relevant portion of the essay. Leff’s essay can be helpful, but don’t make the mistake of simply repeating his conclusions in your paper. You need to develop original descriptive analysis and an original interpretation. My essay in the same volume discusses a different Douglass speech but might provide some insight into Douglass’s ability to negotiate the constraints of ceremonial/epideictic occasions. Historian David Blight discusses a number of Douglass’s speeches from this time period in “‘For Something Beyond the Battlefield’: Frederick Douglass and the Struggle for the Memory of the Civil War” Journal of American History, 75 (1989): 1156-1178, and his analysis might inform your interpretation. Finally, James Oakes discusses both the situation and the speech. See his The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics (NY: WW Norton, 2007), esp. 266-275.  11. Your primary objectives in this assignment are: (a) display your grasp of the conceptual material (the various tropes, figures, and patterns) introduced in Fahnestock and Lanham and discussed in class, (b) accurately describe the dominant patterns in the Douglass speech and (c) generate a sound and insightful interpretation that draws upon reading/discussion to explain how the patterns function, how they may have helped Douglass negotiate his rhetorical situation.

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