June 17, 2004 - Americanrhetoric.com|
Broadcast on COAST TO COAST: June 17, 2004
AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster:
a Web site that offers an interesting look at United States life and
history, through examples of how Americans use rhetoric, the language
RS: Michael Eidenmuller is an assistant professor of rhetoric and
public address at the University of Texas at Tyler. He says an average
of five-thousand Internet users a day visit his site,
AA: What he calls the "heart" of the site is a huge database of
political and religious speeches from the last two centuries. These
come in text form. Many also have audio and in some cases video.
RS: And there's lots more at americanrhetoric.com, which Professor Eidenmuller originally created for his students.
EIDENMULLER: "You'll find quizzes, various exercises in rhetoric to
kind of get the student acquainted with how we, in America anyway,
conceptualize the discipline of rhetoric. And, gosh, you'll find an
area dedicated to 9-11 [the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001],
beginning with the radio reports of police units observing what it is
they're seeing as in the Pentagon situation, for example, when the
plane crashed into the Pentagon.
POLICE OFFICER: " ... it was an American Airlines plane headed eastbound over the pike, possibly toward the Pentagon."
DISPATCHER: "Ten-four. Cruiser 50 direct?"
OFFICER: "Fifty, 10-4."
SECOND OFFICER: "Thirty-six, I'm en route. I see the smoke."
AA: We asked Michael Eidenmuller what are some of the most popular speeches on his site.
EIDENMULLER: "By far the single most popular speech, as measured by the
number of hits it gets per day, is Martin Luther King's 'I Have a
Dream' [delivered at a big demonstration at the Lincoln Memorial in
Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963.]"
MARTIN LUTHER KING: " ... freedom and justice. I have a dream that my
four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not
be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their
character. I have a dream today!"
AA: "Now we've just recently lost a man who was known as the Great Communicator, President Ronald Reagan."
AA: "Has there been an influx of people to your site, downloading his speeches?
EIDENMULLER: "Yes, the site activity has over the last week and a half
has approximately doubled, and the vast majority of the increased can
be accounted for by people accessing Reagan's great speeches."
RONALD REAGAN (January 28, 1986): "Ladies and gentlemen, I'd planned to
speak to you tonight to report on the state of the Union, but the
events of earlier today have led me to change those plans. Today is a
day for mourning and remembering. Nancy and I are pained to the core by
the tragedy of the shuttle Challenger. We know we share this pain with
all of the people of our country. This is truly a national loss."
RS: "What is there in the style of Ronald Reagan, what does his rhetoric style tell us about the life and times?"
EIDENMULLER: "Much has been made about the tone of Ronald Reagan's
delivery. He tended to convey rather sophisticated policy ideas in a
neighborly way, quote unquote. But I think that he took presidential
rhetoric in terms of style in a slightly different direction. He really
greatly preferred telling stories that would capture both the emotional
tone as well as some of the substance of the ideas that he was trying
to communicate. And this was a kind of populist rhetoric that really
hadn't caught on at least to the extent that it did under Reagan's
RS: "What can students of English as a foreign language learn from this Web site, learn from listening to great speeches?"
EIDENMULLER: "Several things. I think that American rhetoric for
foreign, students foreign to English as a first language anyway, it's
useful for closing the gap, I think, between the formal study of
American English grammar and syntax and perhaps the idiomatic
expression of American language.
And by the way, a significant minority of American Rhetoric audiences,
two things, emanate from outside the United States. The greatest single
percentage of these come from Communist China, interestingly enough. So
it's useful for closing the gap between what you study formally and
then how things actually play out rhetorically. I think it serves
students, it teaches them to appreciate the role of public rhetoric in
American-style democracy certainly.
"There is an argument that says America, like Rome, is largely an idea.
And if one accepts that argument at some level, it's an easy move from
there to say that ideas are always and only expressed persuasively
through rhetoric. And so an appreciation and understanding of the great
rhetoric that has been produced in this country would help the student
to understand the history of the ideas, really the way this country is
made as an idea."
AA: And you can find thousands of examples of everything from speeches
to movie clips at americanrhetoric.com. It's creator is Michael
Eidenmuller, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at
Tyler, who says he regularly gets visitors from some 200 countries.
RS: We've posted a link at our Web site, voanews.com/wordmaster, where
you can also find archives of our segments. And our e-mail address is
firstname.lastname@example.org. With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.
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