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 Ling 131: Language & Style

Topic 3 (session A) - Patterns, Deviations, Style and Meaning > Parallelism: non-literary examples > Task D

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Session Overview
Overview of foregrounding, deviation and parallelism
Deviation: non - literary examples
Deviation: literary examples
Parallelism: non-literary examples
Parallelism: literary examples
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Parallelism: non-literary examples

Task D - Parallelism and Political Speeches

Before you look at the analysis below, it will be helpful for you to think about your basic understanding of some concepts. We will then look at what happens to them in a particular parallelistic context.

  1. What are higher standards? What is choice? What relation, if any, do you think exists between higher standards and choice?         [our comments]

  2. What is Socialism? What is Communism? What relation, if any, do you think exists between Socialism and Communism?                    [our comments]

An example of parallelism in a political speech

It will be clear by now that parallelism has persuasive rhetorical properties. Not surprisingly, then, speeches of all kinds, and particularly political speeches, make heavy use of it. As an illustration, here is an example from Margaret Thatcher when she was Prime Minister of the UK as well as leader of the Conservative Party. When she made this speech she was addressing Neil Kinnock, who was the leader of the parliamentary opposition, the Labour Party. We have 'lineated' the extract to make the syntactic parallelism more obvious. accessible / text version of following animation

The first two 'lines' in the speech contain parallel main clauses with the structure adverbial + subject + transitive verb + object (Cj S V O). And lexically the first three clause elements are also identical. This foregrounds the object in each of the two clauses and suggests a semantic parallelism - a quasi-synonymy. Normally 'choice' and 'higher standards' do not seem to have a synonymic relation, but in Mrs Thatcher's speech they did. She accused Neil Kinnock of hating choice because the right of the individual to choose is at the heart of the basic philosophy of the Conservative Party, whereas the Labour Party stresses the idea that the more fortunate should forgo rights and wealth to help the less fortunate. By illicitly using parallelism to suggest that 'choice' and 'higher standards' were the same sort of thing, Margaret Thatcher was trying to engender a belief in those who heard her that Mr Kinock, and therefore the Labour Party wanted lower standards, something which even she would have had difficulty in claiming outright.

The second two lines contain a similar illicit parallelistic equation, this time based on a subject + verb + complement (SVC) construction with two parallel noun phrases occupying the complement position. Mr Kinnock would have claimed himself to be a socialist, so no problem there. But he denied strongly being a communist (a considerably more reviled notion than being a socialist in British political life). Moreover, Mrs Thatcher did not just use the word 'communist' but the rarer (and therefore foregrounded) term 'crypto-communist'. 'Crypto-' means hidden or secret, and is often associated with spying and secret agents. This is because cryptography (code-making and code-breaking) is part of the stuff of the world's intelligence services. So, via the 'parallelism processing rule' Margaret Thatcher was implying that Neil Kinnock was not just a socialist (something she disapproved of), but a communist (much worse) and finally, a secret communist (most dangerous of all).

Of course this example is a critical stylistic account of the way in which a right-wing British politician used parallelism for illicit persuasive ends. But it is not that difficult to find politicians of all persuasions using parallelism illicitly.


Hansard, 18th October 1990, (Prime Minister Engagements), column 1374/1375


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