Prepared speech

Using corpora to investigate prepared speeches

One very simple approach to using corpora in English lessons is to pull apart a speech using the programme Wordle, which can be found here. Wordle creates simple but beautiful images made up of words in a text that you can input.

To use Wordle, first of all find a text version of the speech you are analysing and then paste it into the box. Once the word cloud has been generated you can see the frequency of the words within the text by how big they appear on the screen.

This site also has extracts of famous political speeches that can be analysed, as well as links to clips of them.

Wordle is not the world’s most sophisticated programme and it doesn’t tell you much more than how frequently key words are used, but it can give you a decent starting point for further investigation. It can certainly help to give you some sense of what the key themes in a speech might be and it’s an approach that newspapers have used when analysing politicians’ speeches.

For example, once you’ve looked at key words, you might decide that you want to focus on specific techniques such as how speakers use rhetorical devices such as triads (words repeated in patterns of three), discourse markers which indicate time (now, then), or modal verbs (will, should, can).

These could all form the basis of a quick investigation, or even make up the backbone of an A2 Language Investigation.

Text 1: Conference speech

The following text is an extract from Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats conference speech in November 2011.

Once you’ve read this extract, have a look at the research questions and suggestions that follow it.

Liberal Democrats, we have now been in Government for 500 days. Not easy, is it? None of us thought it would be a walk in the park, but I suspect none of us predicted just how tough it would turn out to be. We've lost support, we've lost councillors, and we lost a referendum. I know how painful it has been to face anger and frustration on the doorstep. Some of you may have even wondered: Will it all be worth it in the end? It will be. And today I want to explain why.

But above all I want to pay tribute to you. Your resilience. Your grace under fire. I have been genuinely moved by your spirit and your strength. Thank you. Thank you, above all, for never forgetting what we are in politics for. After the May elections, Alex Cole-Hamilton, one of our defeated candidates in Edinburgh said that if losing was part payment for ending child detention then, as he said: "I accept it, with all my heart."

That is the liberal spirit and that is something we will never lose. The spirit that gave birth to our party a century and half ago, that kept us alive when the other two parties tried to kill us off. The spirit that means however great our past, our fight will always be for a better future.

Down in Westminster we've been vilified like never before. The Left and the Right didn't like us much in opposition. They like us a whole lot less in Government. The Left accuse us of being powerless puppets, duped by a right wing Conservative clique. The Right accuse us of being a sinister left wing clique, who've duped powerless Conservatives. I do wish they'd make up their mind.

So yes, it has been hard. And adversity tests the character of a party just as it tests any person. We've shown - you've shown - immense strength. After being hit hard, we picked ourselves up and we came out fighting. Fighting to keep the NHS safe. Fighting to protect human rights. Fighting to create jobs. Fighting for every family. Not doing the easy thing, but doing the right thing. Not easy, but right. And as for all those seats we lost in May, let me tell you this: I won't rest, we won't rest, until we've won every single one of those seats back.

These may not be easy times for us as a party. But much more importantly: These are not easy times for the country. Economic insecurity. Conflict and terrorism. Disorder flaring up on our streets. Times like these can breed protectionism and populism. So times like these are when liberals are needed most. Our party has fought for liberal values for a century and half: justice, optimism, freedom. We're not about to give up now.

This conference centre is on the site of the old Bingley Hall where William Gladstone stood a hundred and thirty years ago to found the National Liberal Federation. Gladstone observed that day that Birmingham had shown it was no place for 'weak-kneed Liberalism'. No change there then.

So we are strong. United. True to our values. Back in Government and on your side.In Government you're faced with hard choices every day. The question is how you make them. Some ask 'how can we get a market to work here?' Others 'how can this win us more votes?' A few 'what will the press think?' For liberals, the litmus test is always the national interest. Not doing the easy thing. Doing the right thing.

Research ideas

What kinds of language features would you look at in a text like this and how would you go about finding other political speeches to compare it to?

One suggestion might be to have a look at how speeches like this use address in the form of different pronouns.

  • Where does Clegg use I, you and we?
  • How does his use of these pronouns compare to another speechmaker?
  • Is there a specific context to how he uses these pronouns?
  • For example, does he use other pronouns to suggest a distance between his party and their opponents?

Taking this further

As we’ve said above, Wordle is quite an effective but basic tool, so to find out more about the language of a text, why not try this link to the Corpus of Contemporary American English?



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