Effective use of language: persuasion

History and Orientation

The classical rhetoric is a combination of argumentation and persuasion. Rhetoric is a blend of classical systems by among others, three ancient Greek teachers: Plato, Isocrates (and the Sophists) and Aristotle. The ancient Greeks wondered about language, because they noticed that spoken or written text had a certain influence. It rapidly became apparent that the primary political skill of the age was the ability to speak effectively for one’s interests. This demanded participation and demanded that citizens speak. Therefore decisions were made through deliberation and voting- both speech acts.

Core Assumptions and Statements

Rhetoric can be defined as 1) to perceive how language is at work orally and in writing, and 2) to become proficient in applying the resources of language in their own speaking and writing. In a way every utterance of a human is rhetoric, because all human utterances are speech-acts meant to persuade.

Discerning how language is working in others' or one's own writing and speaking, one must (artificially) divide form and content, what is being said and how this is said, because rhetoric examines so attentively the how of language, the methods and means of communication, it has sometimes been discounted as something only concerned with style or appearances, and not with the quality or content of communication.

Rhetoric has sometimes lived down to its critics, but as set forth from antiquity, rhetoric was a comprehensive art just as much concerned with what one could say as how one might say it. Indeed, a basic premise for rhetoric is the indivisibility of means from meaning; how one says something conveys meaning as much as what one says. Rhetoric studies the effectiveness of language comprehensively, including its emotional impact, as much as its propositional content

Conceptual Model

Not applicable.

Favorite Methods

To be added.

Scope and Application

Rhetorical can be used to persuade people. The Greeks noticed that the politically crucial skill of effective public speaking can be done with (classical) rhetoric.


To be added.


Key publications

  • Leeman, A.D. & Braet, A.C. (1987). Klassieke retorica. Haar inhoud, functie en betekenis. Wolters-Noordhoff: Groningen.
  • Berlin, J.A. (1984). Writing Instruction in Nineteenth-Century American Colleges. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP.
  • Bitzer, L.F. (1968). "The Rhetorical Situation." Rhetoric: Concepts, Definitions, Boundaries. William A. Covino ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon: 1995.
  • Adams, K. H. (1985). Bringing Rhetorical Theory into the Advanced Composition Class. Rhetoric Review, 3, 184-189.
  • Berlin, J. A. (1992). Poststructuralism, Cultural Studies, and the Composition Classroom: Postmodern Theory in Practice. Rhetoric Review, 11, 16-33.

See also: http://www.rhetorica.net/textbook/index.htm or http://rhetoric.byu.edu
See also Speech Act, Psycho-Linguistic Theory.
See also Interpersonal Communication and Relations