An analysis of a sample of persuasive language Martin Luther King, Jr.: I Have a Dream

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2006

13 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1. Introduction

2. Aspects of semantic analysis
2.1. Vocabulary
2.1.1. Personal and Possessive Pronouns
2.1.2. Words and Phrases with Positive and Negative Connotations
2.1.3. Stressing the Urgency of the Moment
2.1.4. Words and Phrases of Movement
2.2. Style, Register and Rhetorical “Tone”
2.2.1. Stylistic Devices
2.2.2. Register and Rhetorical “Tone”
2.3. Logic
2.4. Values
2.5. The Theory of Speech Acts

3. Summary

4. References

1. Introduction

The Civil Rights Movement in the United States of America between 1954 and 1968 aimed at abolishing public and private acts of racial discrimination against African Americans, especially in the southern states. In the course of the movement many sit-ins, freedom rides and several demonstrations were organised to show direct action. It was a time of mass mobilization, nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience of African American citizens. Backed up by local churches and grassroots organizations, the African Americans stood strong and united fighting for their cause. They wanted to bring about new acts that included racial dignity, economic and political self-sufficiency as well as freedom from white authority.

One of the great leaders of the Civil Rights Movement was Martin Luther King, Jr., a baptist minister from Montgomery, Alabama. Travelling many million miles of the country, he organized protests and marches and spoke at demonstrations. Though Martin Luther King, Jr. had been arrested for his political actions many times, he always placed great emphasis on an organized, nonviolent protest against the racist system of southern segregation. Moreover, he wrote several books and articles on that matter. In 1964, King even recieved the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership of the non-violent resistance to end segregation in the United States.

One of the most important marches was the March on Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963. It was at the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to more than 200,000 people from around the United States. His address “I have a dream” in which he is talking about an integrated and unified America was to go down in history as one of the greatest speeches of all times.

Semantically, this is a very interesting piece of persuasive writing. It is King’s amazing choice of words and his metaphorical style of writing that must have electrified the masses in Washington D.C. just as it does today’s readership. Moreover, it is interesting to look at his logic and values.

2. Aspects of Semantic Analysis

2.1. Vocabulary

Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech is full of rich, powerful vocabulary. It is a brilliant example of his eloquent way of talking and writing. It was the excellent education but most of all the experience he gained as a practiced preacher that enabled him to reach the masses in such a tremendous way.

2.1.1. Personal and Possessive Pronouns

Looking at the speech, King uses certain personal and possesive pronouns as he addresses the crowd gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C. At the beginning King says “I am happy to join with you today” referring to the crowd as a whole, the many blacks as well as the white demonstrators. It is a warm welcome to everyone to “what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.” It is already in the first sentence that King makes his point: the United States are one nation belonging to its white and black citizens. He speaks of it as “our nation”.

In the next few paragraphs he draws a broad outline of the history of the Negroes in the United States of America. Having received some freedom through the Emancipation Proclamation signed in 1865, there is yet no full justice for millions of Negroes. Having spoken of “our nation” earlier, he now comes to the conclusion that the Negro is still living as “an exile in his own land”. Therefore, they have now come to “[their] nation’s capital” to finally be awarded their guaranteed unalienable rights that have been promised every single citizen of the United States. King desperately wants to see a united America, where black and white people live together as borthers and sisters saying that “now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. continues, now particularly addressing his people, the Negroes: “I must say to my people.” He wants to remind his fellow Negroes that no matter how desperately they seek for freedom and justice, they “must not allow [their] creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.” Moving on, he gives another reason for not turning against their white brothers: “We cannot walk alone.” The repeatedly usage of the personal pronoun “we” as he talks about different incidents of present injustice vividly shows that he again particularly addresses his Negro brothers and sisters.

It is interesting that King suddenly switches over to talking about the situation from his own point of view using the pronoun “I”. It is probably the combination of his I-narration and the many imperatives such as “Continue” or “Go back” that attach a very wise tone to this part of his speech just before he wants to share his personal dream for the nation with the audience.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks about his personal dream for his nation, he remains in the I-narration: “I have a dream.” While he addresses the nation, however, he refers to certain regions such as “the red hills of Georgia”, “the state of Mississippi”, “down in Alabama”, “the South” to not only identify himself with his people but also to give them a chance to find themselves in his speech.

Once more, King emphasizes on them being a great body of people saying “This is our hope”. From then on he agin uses the personal pronoun “we” such as in “We will be free one day” and “We allow freedom ring.”


Excerpt out of 13 pages


An analysis of a sample of persuasive language Martin Luther King, Jr.: I Have a Dream
University of Birmingham
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
407 KB
Martin, Luther, King, Have, Dream, Semantics
Quote paper
Ulrike Miske (Author), 2006, An analysis of a sample of persuasive language Martin Luther King, Jr.: I Have a Dream , Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: An analysis of  a sample of persuasive language  Martin Luther King, Jr.: I Have a Dream

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free