Choice of words and style of language

The choice of words in “We Shall Fight Them on the Beaches” by Winston Churchill reflects a formal, emphatic style. The formal style is appropriate for the circumstances of the speech:

(…) an effort was made by the French and British Armies in Belgium to keep on holding the right hand of the Belgians and to give their own right hand to a newly created French Army which was to have advanced across the Somme in great strength to grasp it.

The choice of words makes the speech generally easy to understand. However, Churchill sometimes uses more complex words such as “ignominious” (humiliated).

The speaker creates a contrast between negative words, which describe Britain’s losses and the danger of a Nazi invasion, and positive words that describe Britain’s immense efforts at Dunkirk, the nation’s unity, and its resolve to emerge victorious from a confrontation with the enemy.

A few relevant examples of negative words and phrases are “swept like a sharp scythe” ; “armoured and mechanized onslaught” ; “desperate fighting” ; “greatest military disaster” ; “ceaseless hail of bombs” ; “our losses in material are enormous” , etc.

Some words that generate positive images are “memorable resistance” ; “A miracle of deliverance”; “the solid assurances of sea power and (…) air power” ; “linked together in their cause and in their need” etc.

The speaker uses a combination of personal pronouns throughout the speech – the most frequent are the third-person plural “they” and the first-person plural “we”. Plural pronouns help the speaker inspire a sense of unity in his audience: “we shall prove ourselves once again”. The pronoun “they” is most often used in association with the armies involved in ...

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