Language of Persuasion: An Analysis of the Inaugural Speeches of Presidents Jonathan and Buhari



This research studied the language of persuasion of inaugural speeches in Nigeria to find out their use of rhetorical appeals. It investigated certain linguistic features in the speeches that were employed to appeal to the sense of emotion of the listeners, to ethics (speaker’s credibility) and logic alongside the use of unethical or illogical appeals to persuade the listeners. The three variables of ethos, pathos and logos of the aristotelean model of rhetoric were used to analyse 75 sentences (37 and 38 sentences respectively) which were selected from the inaugural speeches of two democratically elected presidents (Goodluck Jonathan of 2011 and Mohammed Buhari of 2015). In carrying out the research, the text of the speeches served as the data and sentences that reflected the appeals and fallacies were selected. The research found that the linguistic features of inaugurals are consciously formed to persuade the listeners. Political leaders employ these lexical choices to thank and acknowledge, express their will, aims and objectives, show their capacity to lead and rebuild, show they understand the problems and promise a better future. In trying to persuade the listeners, they commit some fallacies which may be persuasive but illogical or unethical. Of the three rhetorical appeals, the emotional appeal was the most employed in persuasion.



Chapter One

1.1       Background to the Study

The study of language is captivating due to the role it plays in capturing all aspects of human thoughts and endeavours. Language plays so many roles in our society among which is the forming of social psychology with regard to how attitudes and perceptions are expressed (Yule, 254). Adedimeji also adds that, ‘language mainly serves to form (or deform), inform, reform and transform man and his society’ (6). Boltz and Seyler (n. pag.) argue that words are the tools for saying what you want to say and what you want to say are your thoughts, feelings, dislikes, hopes, fears, business, pleasure, everything that makes you up. Whether in politics, media, administration, teaching and even daily conversations, we use language to achieve the aforementioned goals.

The language of politics is popular for its influence and subtle strategies of persuading people to believe and undertake certain actions. Apart from campaigns which portray the most popular examples of language and politics, an inaugural speech after an election, is a good example of the influence of language in politics and how language is used to achieve persuasiveness in the political sphere. An inaugural speech is delivered by a newly appointed or elected official to outline the plans of that official for the people. It also serves as a speech to show acceptance of the position and visualize the priorities of the official for that office. The success of this speech is hinged on certain rhetorical techniques which involve appropriate use of language, delivery, mode or medium of communication, style, body language, gestures, and facial expressions among others.

Rhetoric is an art that aims to improve the capability of writers or speakers to inform, most likely to persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific speech situations. Aristotle, considers it a counterpart of both logic and politics, and calls it ‘the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion’. Mary Power (n. pag), states that persuading people is a matter of paying attention to four things; who says, what is being said, to whom it is being said and how they say it. Persuasive speakers use a number of language devices to engage their audience, keep their attention, make issues stand out clearly and support their points.

In May 2011, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was democratically elected as the president of Nigeria and in usual fashion, delivered his acceptance speech (inaugural speech). When President Jonathan lost the elections of 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari delivered his inaugural speech. Politicians, in their urge to convince the people to action or to believe what they say, employ language devices and techniques like the use of shared assumptions, associations and connotations, generalization, quotations, humour, storytelling and figures of speech.

Therefore, the focus of this research is on the analysis of these language techniques employed in the selected speeches that can persuade the public to trust, obey, follow and support their leadership for the stipulated time in office. These techniques will center on the rhetoric of persuasion proposed by Aristotle in his triad – logos, ethos and pathos.


1.2       Statement of Research Problem

Researchers have studied the roles language play in constructing, deconstructing and/or subverting political power. These roles are evident in every political discourse such as speeches at political campaigns, tape-cutting events, inauguration and others delivered in a bid to negotiate political power. An inaugural speech of a president is delivered at a time when there is no call for campaigning, propaganda, name-calling or blame games. It is delivered at a time when the people (whether they supported or voted the elect) need to be assured that he/she will lead them all to the Promised Land. It is a speech to convince those who supported and voted the elect that they made the right choice by articulating the plans, actions and thoughts through language in a convincing manner. Presidents of other countries and their representatives listen closely to know if the relationship between both countries will be strengthened or weakened. There is indeed a lot that is dependent on the inaugural speech of a president.

In the area of politics and language, a lot of analysis and research has been done in the area of campaign speeches to portray how the choice of certain linguistic elements can be employed to persuade the audience therefore this research will focus on inaugural speeches. This research sets to investigate the rhetorical strategies employed in the inaugural speeches of Presidents Jonathan and Buhari of Nigeria to negotiate political power by persuading their audience.


1.3       Purpose of the Study

This research in the field of discourse analysis will analyze an aspect that concerns the influence of language on the articulation of attitudes and perceptions and persuade the people to take certain actions. This research aims to identify the linguistic features of the selected inaugural speeches, identify the lexical choices made and recognize the semantic and pragmatic implications. It will also attempt to analyze the rhetorical strategies employed in the speeches to persuade the audience.


1.4       Scope and Limitation of the Study

In this research work, the researcher intends to lay emphasis on two presidents of Nigeria: Goodluck Jonathan and Mohammed Buhari, because of the support garnered during their election and the furore that saw them being elected into the post of President. The research is limited to the rhetorical techniques and strategies employed in the language of their inaugural speeches of 29th May, 2011 and 2015 respectively due to space, time constraint and for proper discussion.


1.5       Research Questions

  1. What lexical and grammatical choices are made in the two speeches?
  2. How do these choices constitute to the meaning conveyed in the speeches?
  3. What persuasive strategies were employed for the speeches to convince their audience?
  4. How do these persuasive strategies reflect ethical or unethical appeals / logical fallacies?