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 of persuasion.
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, americanrhetoric.com.
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 direction."
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.