Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

A Contrastive Study of Political Speeches in Presidential Election of Interpersonal Meaning

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

A Contrastive Study of Political Speeches in Presidential Election of Interpersonal Meaning

Article excerpt


This thesis attempts to use the interpersonal function in SFL as a tool to analyze the interpersonal meaning in the election speeches given by Obama and McCain. From the aspect of mood, modality, and personal pronoun, it tries to explore the interpersonal meaning contained in the election speeches of Obama and McCain, and tries to explain why Obama performs better than McCain. The two famous speeches are analyzed from the perspective of mood, modality, and the personal pronoun system.

Key words: Interpersonal meaning; Presidential election; Speech


Halliday (1970) holds that the context of a situation is divided into three categories: field, tenor and mode. Then, Halliday states that language has three metafunctions: experiential, interpersonal and textual metafunctions. Each of the three metafunctions presents one aspect of the world and each metafunction is related with a different mode of meaning of clauses. The language users can establish and assume their position in social relationships through the interpersonal metafunction, and it is related with clauses as exchange.

As one of the three important meanings of the metafunction, the study of interpersonal meaning has drawn the attention of many linguists. Up to now, many linguists have made many achievements on it from different aspects, such as sociolinguistics, pragmatics, discourse analysis and so on. In terms of Systemic- Functional Grammar, Halliday (1985, 1994), proposes that interpersonal function can be realized by principal lexical grammatical systems: mood, modality and key. According to him, the interpersonal function is used to enable us to participate in communicative acts with other people, to take on roles, and to express and understand feelings, attitudes, judgment. In this way, people play different roles to interact with one another and express their ideas about things so as to affect even to change their ideas, to establish relationship with others.

This paper aims to help readers have a better understanding of the reason why Obama performs better than McCain in their election speeches from the aspect of the analysis of interpersonal meaning, which is hoped to provide some useful guidance for the readers with regard to how to make better speech to realize their purpose.


There were two election speeches of the two presidential candidates of the American election in 2008, which is Obama's speech in the state of Florida and McCain's speech in the state of Ohio. Both speeches touched upon every aspect of the nation, both mentioned the economic crisis of the untied states and pointed out their plans to recover their nation's prosperity. Both are inspirational, encouraging the people by telling them that although the country was probably in the darkest days, there was hope, there was a chance to turn it around. However, there are still many differences if we compare the two election speeches from the aspect of interpersonal meaning in terms of mood, modality and person pronoun.


The Interpersonal Metafunction relates to text's aspects of tenor or interactivity. Like field, tenor comprises three component areas: the speaker/writer persona, social distance and relative social status. And social distance and relative social status are applicable only to spoken texts. Therefore, social distance and relative social status could be apprehended where there is only one author. The speaker persona concerns the stance, personalization and standing of the speaker. This involves judging whether the speaker has a neutral attitude, which can be seen through the use of positive or negative language. Social distance means how close the speakers' relationships are, e.g. how the use of nicknames shows the degree to which they are intimate. Relative social status asks whether they are equal in terms of power and knowledge on a subject, for example, the relationship between a mother and child would be considered unequal. …

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