Texas Tech Linguistics Expert Says Language Usage Important, Calculated For Presidential Candidacy Acceptance and Inaugural Addresses

When it comes to presidential candidates’ acceptance and inaugural addresses, a good story teller can capture the audience’s attention.

When it comes to presidential candidates' acceptance and inaugural addresses, a good story teller can capture the audience's attention. Part of George W. Bush's speech success in 2001 might be linked to his ability to cast a message by telling a good narrative story, said Mary Jane Hurst, a professor of linguistics at Texas Tech University. The Obama campaign is using the same strategy. "George Bush did something interesting every time he spoke," she said. "He framed his messages and ideas as stories. That's a very appealing approach to language if the speaker can pull it off. People relate to storytelling and learn through stories, such as the biblical parable. The Obama campaign is making an effort to do the same thing." That's just one facet of how the language used in speeches can tell a lot about the candidate even if it's not intentional. Hurst said that much thought goes into what is said and how it's said. She's written three articles that have studied candidate speeches and language usage including invoking religion, using clever metaphors and even pronoun usage. "The convention speeches usually are aimed at unifying the party, whereas inaugural speeches are trying to unify the country," Hurst said. "The different functions of the occasion result in language differences. In Clinton's 1992 convention acceptance speech, for example, the word hope was repeated several times. But at the inauguration in 1993, challenge became the dominant word." CONTACT: Mary Jane Hurst, professor of linguistics, Texas Tech University, (806)742-2121 or maryjane.hurst@ttu.edu.