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ENGL104 Study Guide - Final Guide: Rhetorical Criticism, Tina Fey, Sarah Palin

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Christine Horton
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ENGL 104 Notes
Introduction to Rhetorical Theory (Ch1)
Rhetoric is “the human use of symbols to communicate” (Foss)
“the use of words by human agents to form attitudes or to induce actions in other
human agents” (Burke)
Many common uses have negative connotations
Commonly used to mean empty, bombastic language that has no substance
May mean flowery, ornamental speech laden with metaphors and other figures
of speech
Asks why certain words are used to create a message questions the
motivation of the use of language to create a reality
Rhetoric in Ancient Greece:
Rhetoric was “the civil art of public speaking”
Rhetoric was primarily an art of persuasion; it was primarily used in civil life; it
was primarily oral
Sophists: group of teachers who taught rhetoric; Tendency to embellish, create
flowery language what is being said vs. convey actual truth
Oral performance very important eloquence, arrangements of words
Aristotle argued that speeches are persuasive because argumentation was built
on 3 elements:
(a) Logos- Appeal to reason of audience
(b) Pathos- Appeal to the emotions of audience
(c) Ethos- The audience trusts the speaker’s character ex. John Stewart
Plato accused the Sophists of undermining “truth”; manipulating listeners,
coercion through words
Gorgias, Plato, Isocrates, Aristotle
Roman Rhetoric:
Absorbed some Greek culture, rhetorical theory
Balanced between a democracy and oligarchy (government controlled by small
group/sects); Senate controlled the Roman Empire middle class found it
difficult to break into the Senate (whereas Greek culture was more democratic);
rights of speech limited power struggle
Cicero powerful with words in Roman Senate
Cicero’s five canons of rhetoric: invention, arrangement, style, memory, delivery
Argued that natural ability was the most important requisite
The speaker must “teach, please, and move” in order to persuade
Argued that the audience took its moral tone from the orator, therefore the orator
must be educated in order to elevate audiences to move them to the right action
Cicero, Quintilian, Augustine (collaboration of Bible)
Rhetoric moved from being productive (Greece) to being focused on style
(Roman) furthered the negative view on rhetoric (until 20th Century, when new
concept of rhetoric)

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Rhetoric includes the following three components:
1. Humans as creators of rhetoric
- Rhetoric involves symbols which are created and used by humans
- Human experience changes as symbols to represent that experience
change; humans have control/power over language and perception of reality
through language
- Therefore, humans are the originators or creators of messages, meanings
- Human context, emotionalism
2. Symbols for the medium of rhetoric
- Rhetoric involves symbols rather than signs
- Medium- Something which is intermediate between two degrees, amounts,
qualities, or classes; a middle state; An intermediate agency, instrument, or
channel; a means; esp. a means or channel of communication or expression
i.e. Using language as a medium to convey a message; material or spiritual
reality, an emotional state
- Symbol- Something that stands for or represents something else by virtue
of relationship, association, or convention; A human construction connected
only indirectly to its referent (ex. a Christmas tree)
- Actions or objects may be given symbolic value, even though it was not
intended as part of the message (ex. US deploying aircraft carrier)
3. Communication as the purpose of rhetoric
- Often, rhetoric is synonymous with communication; those trained in social
scientific perspectives on symbol use say communication, while those who
study symbol use from a more humanistic perspective say rhetoric
- Rhetoric can be used to persuade others to encourage others to change in
a certain way
- In some instances, rhetoric is an invitation to understanding to offer our
- Rhetoric can also be used as a means of self-discovery and self-knowledge
- Rhetoric tell us what reality is; reality is not fixed but changes according to
the symbols we use to talk about it perception
Sign- The sign is the whole that results from the association between the signified
and signifier, or the abstract concept and the material concept
Signs can be words, images, sounds, odours, flavours, acts, or objects
The material signifier is the literal/tangible; can be a written word, a spoken
word, a nod of the head, a pencil, a book, the smell of burning toast
The abstract signified is the abstract mental concept of the material signifier
(what you think when you read/hear “tree”)
Connections between signifier and signified are arbitrary language does not
point to an essential truth; cannot be an adequate form of reality; language is an
action, not a reflection it produces the truth
Things act as signs:
1. Indexically
2. Iconically
3. Symbolically

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Indexical Meaning- A sign whose signifier (material concept) is not arbitrary but is
directly connected in some way to the signified (abstract concept); A sign which
points to, or indicates, something else by way of cause or association
less conventional because stronger relationship; more natural connections
Ex. Smoke is an index of fire (Smoke is material because you can see/smell it
Fire is abstract because you think it when you see/smell smoke)
Other Examples:
Indexical words: 'that', 'this', 'here', 'there'
Natural signs: thunder, footprints, echoes
Medical symptoms: pain, a rash, pulse-rate
Measuring instruments: thermometer, clock,
Signals: a knock on a door, a phone ringing
Iconic Meaning- A sign whose signifier (material) resembles or imitates the signified
(abstract); A sign which makes you think of something else because the sign
resembles that meaning (where resembles, means the signifier is similar in
possessing some of the qualities of the signified: The signifier recognizably looks,
sounds, feels, tastes, or smells like the signifier)
A portrait or photograph is an icon of a person: the material signifier (paint or
colour on a picture) resembles, or makes you think of, a signified (a person)
An impression: Tina Fey is an icon of Sarah Palin
A graph or chart: a pie chart of GDP of Kazakhstan is an icon of the living
conditions in Kazakhstan
Onomatopoeia: The sound “quack” is iconic of a duck
Metaphor: “couch potato” is iconic of a lazy person
Symbolic Meaning- A sign whose signifier does not resemble the signified but
which is fundamentally arbitrary or purely conventional - so that the relationship must
be learnt; When you think about something purely because of agreement or
convention, because people are in the habit of connecting a particular sign with a
particular meaning is learned
Language: words are symbolic of meaning (the signifier, the written or spoken
word, does not naturally contain the meaning that we attribute to it. This
meaning is assigned by humans and can change)
Traffic Lights: red means stop, green means go
Ring: indicates eternity, commitment
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