Critical Discourse Analysis Of President Barrack Obama’s Inauguration Speech (January 20, 2009)

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Critical Discourse Analysis Of President Barrack Obama’s Inauguration Speech (January 20, 2009)


This research work examined the persuasive strategies of President Obama’s public speaking as enshrined in his inaugural address. The analysis is grounded on Norman Fairclough’s assumptions in Critical Discourse Analysis, claiming that ideologies reside in texts that it is not possible to remove or ignore ideologies from texts and that texts are open to diverse interpretations. The selected corpus’ ideological and persuasive components were assessed. The analytical part of this research work analyzes the possible interrelatedness of textual properties and power relations, which is also underpinned in Fairclough’s conceptual work, thus revealing Obama’s persuasive strategies showing the relationship between language, ideology and reality. This work investigated the ability to empower the people with a new political power by bringing into view the real knowledge of the inauguration speech of President Barrack Obama.

Chapter One

General Introduction

1.0 Introduction

Chapter one of this research work deals with the foundational study which include the Background to the study, Purpose of the study, Justification of the study, Scope and Delimitation of the study and the Authorial background. It is a general insight to what the work entails.

1.1 Background to the Study

Effective reading is of utmost seriousness in the modern era due to the prevalence of media and vast exposure to information. Ironically, people and even scholars have turned a blind eye to the details and distinctions of discourse production and comprehension. This is due to the fact that language users do not often develop a full competence in the semantic component of the language. Regularly, people are heedless to and unenlightened about the implications of the shades of meanings when they are producing discourse or are exposed to it. Moslem (2009)

The concepts of discourse, genre, and style are intimately connected with each other. They are dealing with the macro and micro levels of sociological and linguistic studies. There is a dialectic relationship between social actors or individuals (micro structure) and the social practices and values (macro structure). In this background, a multiplicity of texts is in close interaction with social parameters to bring about different ideological, identities and power structures. In this respect, the voice given to the macro structure, that is government and institutions or the micro structures that is individuals is immensely affected by the theorists’ ideological orientations. Moslem (2009).

Politics is a struggle for power necessary to put certain political, economic and social ideas into practice. In this process, language plays a crucial role, for every political action is prepared, accompanied, influenced and played by language. This paper analyzes political discourse, namely the inaugural address of President Barrack Obama. Given the enormous domestic and global significance of the said speech in these times of international economic turmoil it is crucial to interpret ideological traits typical of Barrack Obama’s enshrined in his inaugural address. An Inaugural address oridinarily decides policies of the newly inaugurated president and its overall significance is enhanced in the case of Obama’s policy of “change”. This work will examine President Obama’s speech using Critical Discourse Analysis as a tool.

1.2 Purpose of the Study

This work will attempt to critically analyze the relationship between language, ideology and reality. Critical Discourse Analysis attempts to reveal hidden meanings, which are ideologically inclined in a discourse. This work in other words shall reflect on insights in Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) that is uncovering of implicit ideologies in texts. It unveils the underlying ideological prejudices and therefore the exercise of power in texts. (Widdoson, 2000:157).

The aim of this paper is to examine President Barrack Obama’s Inaugural speech especially its ideological component using the tools of Critical Discourse Analysis texts.

1.3 Justification of the Study

The conceptual basis of this work is adopted from Norman Fairclough’s ideas on discourse and power, and discourse and hegemony. The attempt to link social practice and linguistic practice, as well as micro and macro analysis of discourse (Fairclough 1989: 97). At the same time, the analytical part of this research work analyzes the possible interrelatedness of textual properties and power relations, which is also underpinned in Fairclough’s conceptual work. Furthermore, this research work attempts to deconstruct covert ideology which is ‘hidden’ in the text – President Barrack Obama’s inaugural speech, stemming from the theoretical hypothesis of the Critical Discourse Analysis.

1.4 Scope and Delimitation of the Study

Language is the most essential ingredient in communication which explains why it means different things to different people who employ it to varied academic endeavors. As expected, many people have attempted to study the language used by people in various professional, non-professional and academic fields. For instance, volumes have been written on the phonological, Syntactic, Lexico-Semantic, Morphological as well a Pragmatic concept of English language such as “The study of Phonology of English Language”, “University Grammar” by Randolph Quirk.

However, it must be noted that this research work will shed more light on the description and the critical interpretation of a discourse namely, President Barrack Obama’s Inauguration Speech on January 20, 2009 thereby bringing about the relationship between the choice of lexemes in the language use and the ideology embedded in it, and how it affects the society.

1.5 Authorial Background

On January 20, 2009, Barrack Hussein Obama not only became the 44th president of the United States of America but also the first African-American to hold the highest office in the American history. Barrack Hussein Obama was born to a black man, Barrack Obama Snr., and a white woman named Ann Dunham on August 4, 1961 in Honolulu, Hawaii. His mother was from Kansas and his father was originally from Kenya where he later returned to after his separation with Obama’s mother. Obama’s early childhood was not a smooth one of any sort. In 1967 Obama’s parent divorced. His mother remarried an Indonesian foreign student named Lolo Soetoro and had a second child named Maya. Obama lived in Jakarta with his mother, new stepfather and half sister from age six to ten. He moved back to his birthplace in Honolulu, Hawaii when he turned ten to live with his maternal grandparents, Madelyn and Stanley Dunham.

Obama’s grandparent took the role as his parents. Although, Obama was living in a white household yet he was being identified as a black man. Living with his grandparent in Honolulu, Hawaii, led Obama to attend an elite Punahou Academy on a scholarship, where he was one of the only three African-American students, until 1979 when he graduated. During this period in his life, Obama saw his father for the last time in 1971.Unfortunately, Obama’s father died later on in a car accident in 1982. Barrack Obama also lost his mother to ovarian cancer in 1999

Barrack Obama received a Bachelors of Arts at Columbia University in New York City, where he also studied political science. After graduation, Obama went to work at Business International Corporation and New York Interest Research Group. Obama later worked for a social services organization in Chicago right before being admitted in one of the top three law schools in the United States, Harvard Law School to study law.

This is where Obama’s determination, strength and will really started to shine. In 1990, Obama was elected as President of the Harvard Law Review Journal. He was the first African-American to hold that type of position at Harvard. He worked hard and strong during his years at Harvard and in 1991, Obama graduated “magna cum laude” at the top of his class. His accomplishments gave him the opportunity to work at any law firm of his choice. He declined the top Manhattan Law Firm’s offers to go back to Chicago and work for the civil rights Law firms such as Miner, Barnhill and Galland. He went on to teach at the University of Chicago Law School, which also helped organize voter registration drives during Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. His work led him to run for Illinois State Senate with the Democratic Party, where he won in 1996, which became the start of former Senator Obama’s journey to become the 44th President of the United States and the first African-American President in 2009.Barrack Obama got married to Michelle Obama on October 3, 1992. They have two daughters Malia Ann Obama born in 1998 and Natasha Obama born in 2001.

1.6 Conclusion

In conclusion, Meaning is not a monolithic construct; it is a multidimensional and slippery concept with amazing complexity. ( Moslem: 2009).Understanding the silent meaning of a text, be it spoken or written is a highly-needed skill in the modern era, because the exposure to information and media is so vast that one can ever be sure of the validity of the surrounding information.

In the next chapter, we shall review our literature. What different scholars and linguists have said about the theory that would be used for the research work.

Chapter Five

Conclusion, Recommendation and Suggestions for Further Study

5.1 Introduction

This chapter presents the conclusion of the study based on the analysis and discussion of the data which carried out in chapter five.

5.2 Main findings

The following offers the main findings:

  1. Barack Obama has been effective in his political career by virtue of his wonderful rhetorical abilities.
  2. The choice of expression in Obama’s inauguration speech is investigated regarding lexical classes, syntactic classifications, figures of speech, and context and cohesion:
    • Nouns or NP used as a part of the discourse are simple, however they do list the needs, for example, the economy, energy, education, vitality and a solid national resistance.
    • Adjectives are used both attributively and predicatively. Used attributively, the adjectives words are intended to encourage indicate the significance as communicated by the headword.
    • Obama uses multiple illocutionary acts by using helping verb “will” that mean extremely solid determinations also use coordinating conjunction andto connect some main clauses.
    • Obama uses repeated compounding and explains his ideas by the use of complex sentences.
    • The figures of speech used are generally metaphor and not very many in the types of synecdoche, metonymy, and simile.
    • Cohesive linkages are made by the use of pronouns, ellipsis, redundancies of words and phrases.

5.3 Recommendations

The researcher recommends the following:

  1. Students of linguistics should make discussions about different speech practices and strategies.
  2. Students should make observe gender differences in language use in a specific environment of TV interviews.
  3. New trends should be offered some theoretical concepts and theories that are helpful in order to understand better all aspects of discourse analysis.

5.4 Suggestions for Further Study

The researcher suggests the following:

  1. To carry out similar studies on critical discourse analysis on some politicians’ speech.
  2. To determine the function of rhetorical criticism in knowledge building and meaning making.
  3. To detail and explain the ways in which socially shared knowledge, attitudes and ideologies can be manufactured through reproduction.

5.5 Summary

This chapter summarized the result of the data analysis and discussion. It checked the hypotheses and came to conclusion that Barack Obama has been effective in his political career by virtue of his wonderful rhetorical abilities. The choice of expression in Obama’s inauguration speech is investigated regarding lexical classes, syntactic classifications, figures of speech, and context and cohesion.

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