Rhetorical Theory


Kenneth Burke defines rhetoric as the "use of words by human agents to form attitudes or to induce actions in other human agents," and "the use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that respond to symbols." Both of these are strongly based on Two observations are worth pointing out here. First, rhetoric is seen as a subset of a larger category, symbolic action. Second, persuasion is central to Burke\'s view of rhetoric. Although persuasion involves inducing actions in other human agents, speakers must first seek identification with the other speaker. Therefore a prerequisite to persuading someone is to identify with that person\'s speech, attitudes, and ideas. Because speakers gain mutual perspectives through identification, Burke argues that speakers are initially divided. Division results from the human condition of inhabiting a separate physical body; we are physically distinct from one another. If speakers were not initially divided, there would not be a need for a speaker to persuade an audience since the minds of speaker and audience would already be united.

Burke uses the term consubstantial synonomously with identification. Consubstantial refers to a speaker\'s identification through various properties or substances, such as physical objects, occupations, friends, activities, beliefs, and values. For example, to call someone a friend or brother is to proclaim him consubstantial with oneself, one\'s values or purposes. In addition, Burke relates the sharing of substances to actions; that is, by sharing common substances, such as sensations, concepts, images, and ideas, speakers can be viewed as acting together.

Such considerations are basic to our consideration of whether people speak languages or languages speak people. To put this in Burke\'s terms, we might consider language as the scene within which I am the agent/speaker. I then speak language, but with a sense of the language being larger than I, I cannot fail to see ways that my action is limited by the scene. Then again, lokking at language behavior in another way, I am larger than my use of the language. Therefore, it is possible for me to be seen as scene with language as speaker and my \'control\' of the language viewed as a reduction of the possible acts that the language would choose to say. This in turn leads to an interesting ambiguity and the possibility of comedic understanding of the contradiction of my relationship to \'my\' language (and, as KB would say, v.v.). This also leads to the second of Burke\'s notions that I will discuss

For Burke (1992), human motives are revealed through the dramatistic approach. He argues that "Dramatism is a method of analysis and a corresponding critique of terminology designed to show that the most direct route to the study of human relations and human motives is via a methodological inquiry into cycles or clusters of terms and their functions." (p.235). Language and motives are so inextricably linked that analysts may discover a speaker\'s motives just by analyzing the speaker\'s rhetorical action.

It is important to note that for Burke, motive does not refer to the speaker\'s "cause" or "purpose" for performing an action. Instead, motive is a label for a completed action that is made up of linguistic products. Motives are best realized through the pentadic relationship of terms discussed below.