Analyzing President Obama’s voice

Let’s analyze candidate Barack Obama’s voice in his victory speech after winning the Iowa Caucuses. It begins like this:

Thank you, Iowa.
You know, they said this day would never come.
They said our sights were set too high. They said this country was too divided, too disillusioned to ever come together around a common purpose.
But on this January night, at this defining moment in history, you have done what the cynics said we couldn’t do.
You have done what the state of New Hampshire can do in five days. You have done what America can do in this new year, 2008.
In lines that stretched around schools and churches, in small towns and in big cities, you came together as Democrats, Republicans and independents, to stand up and say that we are one nation. We are one people. And our time for change has come.
You said the time has come to move beyond the bitterness and pettiness and anger that’s consumed Washington.
To end the political strategy that’s been all about division, and instead make it about addition. To build a coalition for change that stretches through red states and blue states.
Because that’s how we’ll win in November, and that’s how we’ll finally meet the challenges that we face as a nation.

He starts conversationally, “You know…,” and uses contractions. He keeps his language simple and direct. His driving rhythm results mostly from repetition of short phrases:

“They said…. They said…. what the cynics said….You said….”
“too divided, too disillusioned….”
“said we couldn’t do….You have done…. You have done….”
“…can do in five days…. can do in this new year, 2008.”
“to move beyond the bitterness …. To end the political strategy…. To build a coalition….”

He revs up some sentences with beginning phrases that delay the subject:

“But on this January night, at this defining moment in history….”
“In lines that stretched around schools and churches, in small towns and in big cities….”

The whole passage turns on imagery of time and space, from lines stretching to the nation. He uses contrasting pronouns: “they” versus “you” and “we.” His tone is absolutely assured, without qualifiers.

Most of his sentences are either long or medium length. His longest sentence sets up his two shortest: “We are one people. And our time for change has come.” And those two sentences, emphatic by their short punchiness, are the heart of his message in this speech.

[What do you notice in Obama’s voice?]

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Published in: on November 8, 2009 at 8:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

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