Rhetorical style

Rhetorical style: The uses of language in persuasion. By Jeanne Fahnestock. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. 464. ISBN 9780199764112. $39.95.

Reviewed by David Pruett, Austin Community College

Jeanne Fahnestock’s book is a guide to methods of language analysis that focus on rhetorical style. The classical rhetorical canons—invention, judgment, arrangement, memory, and delivery—necessarily rely on this later-appearing canon. As F notes, ‘style is arguably the most implicated in the others, since linguistic choice is the point of realization’ (7). These choices help create messages that change an audience’s attitudes, beliefs, and actions.

In the introduction (1–19), F analyzes the rhetorical style of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ‘Day of infamy’ speech to acquaint readers with her methods. She lays out the book’s plan, reminding readers of rhetoric’s seminal theorists, namely Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian, whose writings she cites throughout her book.

Part 1, ‘Word choice’ (21–144), consists of six chapters that focus on individual words. Ch. 1 gives an overview of the history of the English lexicon, emphasizing the range of synonyms drawn from Old English, French, Latin, and Greek. Ch. 2 discusses ways that linguistic variation alters items in the lexicon semantically and morphologically. Ch. 3 covers ways of categorizing words, traditionally by parts of speech and alternatively by fields and levels, and Ch. 4 describes a rhetorical understanding of registers and illuminates the persuasive opportunities in shifting registers. Ch. 5 reviews traditional notions of the trope, and Ch. 6 introduces lesser-known ‘word schemes’, such as agnominatio and ploce.

The six chapters of Part 2, ‘Sentences’ (145–273), treat the persuasive effects of sentence-level grammar. Ch. 7 focuses on options for subject and verb choices, and Ch. 8 surveys ways that modifiers and clause types affect this predication. Ch. 9 shows how the arrangement of clauses affects emphasis and comprehension, while Ch. 10 examines parallelism, repetition, and antithesis as sentence-level means of emphasis. Ch. 11 looks at the rhetoric of lists, and Ch. 12 provides an overview of punctuation marks as shapers of oral performance and grammatical structure.

Part 3, ‘Interactive dimension’ (275–341), is composed of three chapters that focus on identity construction for rhetors and audiences. Ch. 13 discusses methods of constructing identification by addressing real or fictional audiences. Ch. 14 describes the rhetorical value of direct and indirect speech, invented speakers, heteroglossia, and register shifting, and Ch. 15 looks at deictic language in response to exigence.

The three chapters contained in Part 4, ‘Passage construction’ (343–417), discuss the construction of longer units of text, beginning in Ch. 16 with the concept of coherence between sentences within a passage. In Ch. 17, passage-building argument units such as enthymeme, epicheireme, and extended comparison are discussed, and F concludes the book with a discussion in Ch. 18 of ‘arguably the single most important goal in rhetorical stylistics, the goal of amplification’ (16).

F’s method stresses parole and performance, not langue and competence, as she draws samples from political speeches, journalism, historiography, utility company pamphlets, literary works, and science. For linguists with a limited background in rhetoric, F’s book offers an informative survey of the methods of rhetorical analysis.