Last Updated 07 Jul 2020

Martin Luther King – I Have a Dream Analysis

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Topic Choice: The topic choice ‘I have a dream’ was chosen after a lot of soul searching. It reveals the speaker’s previous experiences growing up and living in a segregated society. He only dreamt of being treated as an equal citizen, not based on the colour of his skin and ethnic background. This topic was directed at millions of African Americans suffering from extreme poverty as a result of being denied opportunities in their own country. The topic resonated with everyone in the crowd on that day and would be repeated several times in the speech.

The majority of the people taking part in the march for freedom on that day only dreamt of being accorded the same opportunities and rights that their fellow white citizens enjoyed. ‘I have a dream’ was an excellent topic choice for the event and still remains synonymous with the struggle for freedom up to this day Word Order: In [1], the speaker acknowledges and thanks the audience for attending the historic march for freedom and equality, and he reminds them that that particular day would go down in history as the greatest for freedom in the United States of America.

He takes them back five years ago and reminds them that despite all the joy and hope they felt when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Act, freedom was still far away. Nothing had changed among blacks, Hipics and other visible ethnic minorities living in the United States: [1] “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity”.

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Martin Luther King’s demeanor was calm and collected and waited for the words to sink in the audience’s mind before proceeding with the next part of the speech. The order of his words was well organized right from the start: [1] and [2] talks about the Emancipation Proclamation and its mirage sense of equality. [3], [4] and [5 is a reminder for the United States Government to apply the Emancipation Proclamation to all men black and white. [6] and [7] is a declaration that unless the situation was corrected by the government, revolutions and disturbances will continue. 8], [9] and [10] is a reminder to the audience of the importance of avoiding violence and to restore to peaceful and dignified protests. [11], [12], [13], [14], [15], [16], [17], [18] and [19] are all an inspirational talk that is the essence of the speech 'I have a dream'. Stress, Intonation and Coherence: The speaker stresses the importance of his message through his tone. This was not considered an ordinary message. This was supposed to be an extraordinary message from an extraordinary man at a crucial point in the history of African Americans in the United States of America.

This was the only non violent weapon available to millions of disadvantaged people and the speaker knew the importance of this historic occasion. The speech had been written and revised several times until the Reverend Martin Luther King felt it was now ready to be delivered. Despite all the care, thought and effort put into drafting this speech, its message would be useless if it was not delivered in a coherent and logical manner. In [2] people are still reminded that the Negro is still not free. By invoking the word Negro, he really wanted to bring the message home to thousands of African Americans across America.

The tone of his voice was authoritative, commanding as well as captivating the audience. He constantly reminded black people in America how they were living in dire poverty when in fact they were living in the richest country on earth. He was aware that his message would be broadcast in millions of homes across America and the world at large. There were applauses and cheering coming from the thousands of people standing in the crowd urging him to go on with the speech. His message was being well received: [2] “One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.

So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition”. In [2], Martin Luther King was not only reminding black people that they were languishing in poverty and being denied all the available opportunities in the land of plenty, but he was speaking directly to the United States government and the majority of white people in America. He was merely telling them they should not forget how wealthy they were at the expense of the suffering poor black people and it was time to change the status quo.

Therefore, his audience was not just the thousands of people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial, but the millions of white people who would be watching and listening to his speech in their luxurious homes. Local Semantic Moves: The speaker does not use just ordinary language to convey his message. He makes use of a number of semantics to enrich and make his message bold. In [3] he speaks of having come to the nation’s capital to cash a cheque and refers to the Declaration of Independence as a promissory note signed by the government.

Once a promissory note is signed one cannot go back on that promise and by this he was reminding as well as warning the government that they had to act on their promises and failure to do so would continue to be met with demonstrations across the country. In [4] the speaker, reminds the authorities of having defaulted on their promissory note and the black people’s refusal to believe that there are "insufficient funds in the bank of justice" and that there are insufficient funds in the" great vaults of opportunity "of this nation.

He invokes colorful language of banking to add meaning to his speech. He maximizes the use of his great oratory skills. By using semantics, he keeps his audience attentive and wanting to hear more. Martin Luther King chooses his words carefully to inspire in his audience the attitude he wants them to adopt in their quest for freedom, a non violent pursuit o freedom: [8]"We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.

Again and again [slightly rising intonation] we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. " Words such as "dignity, discipline, creative protest, majestic heights, and soul force" inspire a sense of self worthiness and mature dignity in the audience. In [10] King chooses his words brilliantly to reinforce the notion of a peaceful protest. He tells his audience that he is not "unmindful" of their situation. He totally understands and shares their plight and hardship. The speaker uses adjectives such as "storms nd winds" in describing the audience's fight for freedom. It is like a typhoon that twirls them around and rips them apart but they have to endure it with "creative and redemptive suffering" and go back to their towns, to their demeaning jobs and to their ghettos to continue their dignified struggle for freedom. King used stimulating words to inspire his audience to seek their lost freedom but at the same time he chose his words carefully to control the probable physical effect of his inspiring words.

He was protecting his hearers from any form of violence and brutality that might erupt after the speech. Speech Acts and Schematic Organisation: Throughout his speech, the speaker shows an impeccable sense of organisation and shows how gifted he is in the art of speaking. In [5] and [6] he invokes a sense of urgency of attaining freedom. He reminds the authorities of the seriousness of the matter despite the fact that he might be put in jail after the speech. Here is a man who knew anything could happen to him immediately after addressing this crowd and the nation.

He displays his charisma and fearlessness: [5] " NOW [rising intonation] is the time to make real the promises of democracy. " "NOW [rising intonation] is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. " "NOW [rising intonation] is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. " "NOW [high intonation] is the time [pause] to make justice a reality for all of God's children. He emphasizes the word ‘now’ in [5] indicating that they were tired of waiting and something had to be done immediately to address these social injustices. In [6] the speaker warns the authorities of the repercussions of ignoring their requests: “There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. ” This was no joking matter. Although the speaker was addressing the audience gathered at the Lincoln Memorial, this particular message was directed at the United States government and the whole world was listening and watching.

In [7] his tone changes as he reminds the authorities once again of what awaits them if they don’t address their concerns: “The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges. ” Despite these seemingly harsh and inciting words, the speaker quickly turns his speech around and addresses the black people warning them never to use violence or revenge as a means of attaining freedom. He displays his rhetorical and organizing skills in the process.

In [8], [9] and [10] he skillfully urges all black people in America to continue fighting for freedom none violently. Propositional Structures turn Takings, Repairs and Hesitation: In [11] the speaker shows that he is a great man of faith and strength. Despite all the injustices and persecution, he is prepared to continue leading his people in the fight for freedom. He strongly believes that all human were created equal and should be entitled to the same opportunities.

In [12], [13], [14] and [15] he starts each of the next paragraphs with a very strong and authoritative voice making the same utterance ‘I have a dream’. This is met by thunderous applauses and delight from the audience. At times he seems to hesitate to start the next sentence. He is simply making sure that his message is sinking deeper into his audience’s hearts and minds: [12] "I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. [13] "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. " [14] "I have a dream that one day [pause] down [long vowel] in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day down RIGHT THERE [high voice] in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers. [15] "I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. " The power of the speech’s title is clearly visible in all these words and they get the crowd jumping up and down, clapping their hands and nodding their heads all in agreement with the speaker. Hope and Freedom In [16], [17], [18] and [19] in the closing stages of his speech, Reverend Martin Luther King changes his speech act in order to drive the final message home.

While he has been addressing the United States government and other stakeholders, his attention now turns to the African American gathered here and listening across the United States. He reminds them that despite all the suffering there is still hope and freedom is coming. People just need to persevere. In [18] he reminds the whole nation that freedom is coming to all corners of their country: [18] "So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. (a) Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. (b) Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! c) Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado! (d) Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California! (e) But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia! (f) Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! (g) Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. (h) From EVERY MOUNTAINSIDE [high intonation] let freedom ring. " The tone in his voice changes considerably when he makes these utterances. His voice displays the seriousness, urgency and boldness associated with the quest for freedom.

His concluding remarks show a man who has devoted his life fighting for equality and social justice. He reminds the American people of the beauty of allowing every human being to be free. In his mind, despite all the challenges and struggles of life, the black people will definitely be free one of these days: [19] "FREE AT LAST, FREE AT LAST! THANK GOD ALIMIGHTY, WE ARE FREE AT LAST! "[high intonations][applause and cheering]. The Results of the Analysis: The analysis of this speech illustrates how the Critical Discourse Analysis can explain hidden meaning in language.

It does not dwell on one particular theory of discourse analysis but embraces a number of theories available. Using a number of different linguistic markers has revealed a number of linguistic traits displayed by Martin Luther King. A critical analysis of the topic choice reveals that it was chosen after a thorough and thoughtful process. ‘I have a dream’ becomes engrained in most parts of the speech as a way of emphasising the central theme of the message. The speaker’s style of presentation and rhetorical skills are unique.

The speech invokes historical injustices that are still visible in American society and need to be urgently addressed. Just like the urgency with which poverty, injustice and lack of freedom has to be addressed, the speaker delivers his speech with so much punch and vigour. He uses very colourful language in trying to add more meaning to his speech. The audience are mesmerised by the strong and powerful message conveyed by the speech itself. The speaker switches his attention between the people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial and the United States Authorities as he subconsciously addresses them every now and then.

Overall, this was a brilliant speech on a historic occasion which managed to achieve its main objectives. The message was heard by African Americans and the United States government loud and clear. This speech has gone down in history books as one of the best speeches ever to be delivered and still remains an inspiration to millions of people around the world up to this day. The Conclusion: Critical Discourse Analysis is a powerful tool for analysing speeches. Often, some speeches especially media texts, may not be comprehensible to the audience.

Critical Discourse Analysis aims to demystify anything not apparent from the speeches and it tends to be more associated with power, struggle and politics, hence it has been appropriate to analyse Martin Luther King’s speech using Critical Discourse Analysis. Additionally, Reverend Martin Luther King’s speech owes its background to years of struggling, poverty and denial of opportunities for the majority of black Americans. He delivers the speech in a perfect setting after a long March for freedom when everyone was quiet anxious and expectant by the end of the day.

The authorities were carefully watching him and scrutinising every word that came out of his mouth. Despite all the attention, he delivered the speech flawlessly and without any fear. His style and rhetoric was just unique and his speech was very well received by those gathered and everyone else watching at home. He continually repeated the title of the speech, ‘I have a dream’ as he attempted top drive his message home. In using the critical analysis approach, the writer attempted to unravel some of the hidden meaning engrained in this speech.

Martin Luther King – I Have a Dream Analysis essay

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