Structural and lexical peculiarities of political speeches (Margaret Thatcher’s and Ronald Reagan’s speeches case study) | Статья в журнале «Молодой ученый»

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Рубрика: Филология, лингвистика

Опубликовано в Молодой учёный №4 (108) февраль-2 2016 г.

Дата публикации: 18.02.2016

Статья просмотрена: 1671 раз

Библиографическое описание:

Жучкова, Е. В. Structural and lexical peculiarities of political speeches (Margaret Thatcher’s and Ronald Reagan’s speeches case study) / Е. В. Жучкова, Н. И. Бакланова. — Текст : непосредственный // Молодой ученый. — 2016. — № 4 (108). — С. 894-896. — URL: (дата обращения: 04.03.2021).

The research deals with the study of structural and lexical peculiarities of political speeches. Special attention is given to differences in practical use of these peculiarities depending on the individual characteristics of the language of the speaker.

Keywords: political discourse, trope, stylistic device.

The role of political communication in developing economic, cultural and political relationships among the world community is significant, and saying that the doing of politics is predominantly constituted in language we conclude that language is the main tool of influence on people’s perception of the events. We cannot deny the power of political discourse, since political speeches can have a great impact and lead to the emergence of conflicts as well as their resolution by peaceful means or with the usage of military force. Not in vain the politicians apply to the services of speechwriters, who are educated in the use of persuasive language and are mastered in application of resources of language. On the base of separate examples of political speeches we can make judgements and further predictions on possible priorities and directions of the development of a certain political course or international relationships.

Many scholars analyzed the usage of language in the political sphere, including The Frankfurt School and socially concerned linguists [3], followed by socially and politically oriented linguists [1]. In the current research we limited the area of interest and focused on two specific examples of political speeches, viz. “The lady's not for turning” by Margaret Thatcher and “We Will Not Be Turned Back” by Ronald Reagan.

The choice of the political speeches for analysis was not made by chance. The personalities of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan are iconic — both were outstanding political figures of their time. Thatcher’s premiership (1979–1990) lasted for longer than of any other British political leader of XX century. Ten years after the beginning of her work as a prime minister the country took the 4th place in the world’s economy. The existence of the term “Thatcherism” itself suggests her long-lasting political legacy. «The lady's not for turning» was one of her most famous speeches pronounced at the Conservative Party Conference in Brighton on 10 October 1980. Between 1979 and 1983 unemployment peaked at three million and in her speech Margaret Thatcher stressed her determination to stick to tough economic policies despite doubts expressed within Tory ranks.

As for Ronald Raegan, the President of the US (1981–1989) particularly known for his economic policies (“Reaganomics”) — he stands as a fascinating figure of American history, and in many ways has defined the Republican party and conservatism seen today. R. Reagan's effectiveness as a public speaker earned him the moniker, «Great Communicator», for being able to persuade the others of the merits of his views of the world. R. Reagan himself explained that it was his «empathy» with the American people that made him an effective communicator and leader.

The production of speech involves selections among innumerable possibilities that can be found in the linguistic system and the use of certain choices reveals the speaker's/writer's intentions. The desire of the speaker to convince and to rouse his audience results in the usage of tropes, which are stylistic means that involve the usage of words or word-combinations in their indirect meaning, and stylistic devices, or figures of speech, which are special syntactical constructions that add expressiveness to speech.

The aim of the research, therefore, was to define structural and lexical peculiarities of the political speeches made by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan with the respect of their function and the overall effect created on the audience.

The results of the analysis showed, first of all, that for political speeches the wide usage of metaphors (belonging to various domains, including one of medicine, i.e. “the war between Iran and Iraq is the latest symptom of a deeper malady”, and of war, i.e. “barricade of obstacles” by M. Thatcher for many obstructions that disturbed the performance of the needed measures, or “fight” by R. Reagan for performing tax indexing; some of them are also sustained, i.e. “road to recovery” in M. Thatcher’s speech) and epithets (i.e. “autumn of understanding”, “winter of common sense”) is generally common since the vast amount of them can be seen in both speeches. They are aimed at the evaluation of features of the items described and can create negative attitude in the minds of the audience when the words with negative connotations are used, like in “state drains society” (M. Thatcher).

The usage of terms, proper names, abbreviations, figures, dates, that cannot be avoided in political speeches, is aimed to deliver definite and correct information and facts. The employment of modal verbs shows strong determination and obligation (i.e. “our Conservative Government must succeed. We just must” by M. Thatcher, and “we must develop a forward strategy” by R. Reagan) and formulas of participation (“we”, “our”, “us”) unites the speaker with the audience, politician with people.

To make the language more colourful and express complicated ideas short idioms can be used (i.e. “private sector is taking the knocks”, “relax the squeeze” by M. Thatcher, “has turned a blind eye” by R. Reagan). To the very same purpose puns are created as being very striking and thus attracting the attention of the audience. This is, for example, the phrase referring to Thatcher's refusal to perform a «U-turn», which is a sudden change of policy or opinion by a public official (“To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the “U-turn”, I have only one thing to say: 'You turn [U-turn] if you want to”), or R. Reagan’s “you can't prime the pump without pumping the prime”. It was also noticed that sometimes the speaker may meander from the main topic by making a joke to ease mental effort and facilitate understanding of the communication, i.e. “Someone asked me why I wanted to make it three in a row. Well, you know how the Irish love wakes” (R. Reagan). M. Thatcher used a joke to overcome the tension of the situation when two of the protesters who demonstrated outside in the rain managed to breach security and break in the hall during her performance (“Never mind, it is wet outside. I expect that they wanted to come in. You cannot blame them; it is always better where the Tories are”).

As for the structural aspect, opening of the speeches should be noted with obligatory forms of greeting and thanking the audience (i.e. “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Chairman, reverend clergy, I thank you very much for those very kind words, and I thank you all for certainly a most hearty and warm welcome” by R. Reagan).

Among syntactical devices employed in political speeches there are parallel constructions (i.e. “This Party, which I am privileged to serve, and this Government, which I am proud to lead…” by M. Thatcher, “groups who see government as …, who believe that …, who must be watched and…” by R. Reagan), repetitions (i.e. “Britain has repaid $3,600 million of international debt, debt which had been run up by our predecessors” by M. Thatcher, “the policies of tax and tax, spend and spend, elect and elect” by R. Reagan) and anaphors (i.e. “Inflation destroys nations… Inflation is the parent of…”by M. Thatcher, “We need those tuition tax credits. We need a voucher system... We need education savings accounts” by R. Reagan) that lay a special emphasis on some ideas, help to keep the semantic balance and make utterances more rhythmical and persuasive and the speech more understandable, accessible and easy to interpret. Moreover, antitheses making clash of ideas (i.e. “All of that money has got us nowhere but it still has to come from somewhere” by M. Thatcher), enumerations displaying some kind of semantic homogeneity (i.e. “but I do care about the future of free enterprise, the jobs and exports it provides and the independence it brings to our people” by M. Thatcher) and gradations (i.e. “Americans have learned again to listen to each other, to trust each other” by R. Reagan) were singled out.

For attaching the importance to the things being said or for achieving credibility, quotations are used (i.e. “there was this newspaper account that appeared after the ceremonies. I'd like to read it to you” — R. Reagan), bringing some testimony to the expressed idea and even forming a thought-provoking topic. And rhetorical questions serve the purpose of revival of the interest of the listeners and addressing the minds to the desired direction (i.e. “If I could press a button and genuinely solve the unemployment problem, do you think that I would not press that button this instant?” — M. Thatcher).

Apart from the described features the implementation of which can be considered as quite common for the genre of political speeches, there exist peculiarities that can only be described as individual linguistical characteristics of the author. Relying on the observations made in the comparative analysis we would like to underline the usage of colloquial language (i.e. “you look pretty shook up”, “buddy system”, etc), appealing to the audience during the speech (i.e. “I'm asking you, the conservative leaders”) and clichés for structuring and sequentially organizing information as the most characterizing features of Ronald Reagan’s speech. His aptitude of using parallel combinations consisting of two elements rather than three-part lists common for M. Thatcher is also peculiar. Among the tropes metonymy (based on item and its creator contiguity — “Kemp-Roth”, meaning Tax Cut of Kemp and Roth, an enacted federal law), euphemism (“whistleblowers” for people who inform on a person or organization) and pleonasm (“to win further victories”) were found.

Margaret Thatcher’s way of speaking is less emotional, lacking the irony and sarcasm. It can generally be described as much more official, but her rare usage of puns and allusions has appeared to be very striking and memorable (the title of the speech itself was the allusion to the 1948 play “The Lady's Not for Burning” by Christopher Fry and has become something of a Thatcherite motto). She shows strong emotions and feelings through the usage of exclamatory sentences (i.e. “But with confidence in ourselves and in our future what a nation we could be!”). The strength of her arguments comes from syntactical devices, viz. parcellation (i.e. “Now Michael Heseltine has given them the chance to turn a dream into reality. And all this and a lot more in seventeen months”), inversion (i.e. “Not for us the disastrous fantasies of…”), ellipsis (i.e. “For the first time nationalised industries and public utilities can be investigated by the Monopolies Commission—a long overdue reform”) and double negation (i.e. “…it will not stay free if it cannot pay its own way in the world”). The additional subtypes of repetitions can also be found in the speech, i.e. epiphora (“Marxists claim that the capitalist system is in crisis. But the Polish workers have shown that it is the Communist system that is in crisis”), and anadiplosis (“Without a healthy economy we cannot have a healthy society. Without a healthy society the economy will not stay healthy for long”). Her unusual usage of question-answer structures is worth mentioning as becoming one of specific features of her language (i.e. “Independence? Yes, but let us be clear what we mean by that”).

Thus, having compared the two speeches we came to the conclusion that though both Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan managed to create vivid images of the issues described and make their arguments sound very credible, M. Thatcher is more inclined to use syntactical devices to achieve persuasiveness, and evaluativity in her speech is less evident than in the one of R. Reagan, who not only openly expresses his feelings towards the matter being discussed but also tries to arouse emotions in the listeners, effectively using irony and jokes.

Summing up, we would like to say that, more than anywhere, the power of influence is important in political speeches. With the aim to persuade, politicians organize their performances, using lexical, syntactical and stylistic means that help to structure arguments logically, attract the attention of the audience and bring some emotional appeal. The images that they create, the evaluativity that they include in their speeches from the first look do not seem prominent, but the elaborated usage of the features of political language helps politicians influence — and very successfully — the beliefs and attitudes of minds of the audience. That is why the study of political discourse as well as the analyses of the examples of speeches made by distinguished political leaders can be very helpful for those involved in the sphere of political communication.


  1. Dijk, T.A. van. What is Political Discourse Analysis? // Political linguistics. — Amsterdam: Benjamins, 1997. — pp. 11–52.
  2. Galperin, I. R. Stylistics — М.: Высшая школа, 1981. — 295 pp.
  3. Hodge, R. I. V., Kress, G. R. Language as ideology — London: Routledge, 1993–230 pp.
  4. Margaret Thatcher. The lady's not for turning. [Electronic resource]. — Access mode:, free. — Lang. Eng.
  5. Ronald Reagan. We Will Not Be Turned Back. [Electronic resource]. — Access mode:, free. — Lang. Eng.

Ключевые слова

Политический дискурс, троп, Стилистическое устройство., trope, political discourse, stylistic device
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