Language

Style of language

The language used by Martin Luther King Jr. in “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is formal and complex, including multiple references to religion, philosophy, and historical events. Some example of formal words and phrases are: “cognizant of the interrelatedness”, “deplore”, “engulfs”, “futility of massive resistance to desegregation.” , “pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities”.

The writer also uses words that were common in the 1960s but today have an offensive meaning, such as “the Negro community” , “Negroes” and “colored”.

Despite being formal and sometimes reminiscent of religious sermons, the language used does not pose major difficulties in understanding the text.

Choice of words

King uses a diverse vocabulary in the text. To construct ethos for the civil rights cause, he uses positive words to describe the movement and the protesters, some examples being: “constructive work”, “genuine good will” , “reasonable terms”, “nonviolent campaign”, “the more excellent way of love”, “their sublime courage” , etc.

However, because part of the writer’s intention is to criticize clergymen who oppose non-violent resistance, he frequently uses negative words: “sit idly” , “narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea” , “superficial kind” , etc. King also uses words and phrases with negative connotations when he focuses on the policies of segregation which discriminate against the African-American community: “racial injustice” , “ugly record of brutality” , “grossly unjust treatment”, “hard, brutal facts”, “humiliating racial signs”, “victims of a broken promise”, etc.

The choice of pronouns shows that the writer extensively uses the first-person plural ( “we”, “our”) and singular (“I”, “my”). This indicates that King wants to create ethos around his position as a lea...

The text shown above is just an extract. Only members can read the full content.

Get access to the full Study Guide.

As a member of PrimeStudyGuides.com, you get access to all of the content.

Sign up now

Already a member? Log in