Language

The language used by Martin Luther King Jr. in his speech “I Have a Dream” reflects a combination of a political speech and a religious sermon. The speech is made memorable through its widespread use of metaphorical imagery along with emphatic repetitions. The language can be described as formal but accessible to a broad audie…

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Choice of words

The choice of words mirrors the topics of the speech with references to freedom, civil rights, African Americans, and discrimination.

The speaker uses a number of words that create negative images, such as “crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination”, “the heat of oppression”, “vicious racists” “unspeakable horrors of police brutality”, and “shameful condition”. Such adjectives and nouns are used to describe the situation of African Americans in the 1960s.

In contrast to the current situation, …

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Sentence structure

The sentences used by the speaker are well-structured, suggesting the speaker has researched and prepared his speech in advance. Some of them are short, especially when the speaker wants to convey a firm and memorable message: “We cannot walk alone.”; “We cannot turn back.”.

Others are longer as the speaker wants to construct more complex images for the audience: “We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain l…

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Delivery and tone

King’s tone when he delivers his speech reminds the audience of his background as a church minister. His tone is typical of religious sermons made in African-American churches. His words are rhythmic and almost sung: “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight…”. Try listening to his speech on YouTube.

The speech can be divided into two main parts. The first part focuses on the present (1963), where the speaker argue…

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Symbols, political propaganda, and personal stories

In his speech, King includes symbols, a personal reference, and political propaganda techniques.

A typical propaganda technique the speaker uses is appealing to group dynamics and claiming to be their voice by the extensive use of the personal pronoun “we”: “In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check.” 

To illustrate that he has a personal stake in the Civil Rights Moveme…

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