The Uses and Functions of Barack Obama’s Hedging Language in Selected Speeches


English Language Institute, Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Department of Translation, College of Languages, Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Keywords: Barack Obama’s speeches, hedging language, discourse analysis, Salager-Meyer’s taxonomy


President Barack Obama’s use of the hedging language is an evidence of his unique mastery of rhetorical strategies, power of persuasion and an influential speaker. The purpose of this study was to identify and retrieve the hedging devices contained in President Obama’s speeches. For this purpose, his most important and decisive speeches were selected including two inaugural addresses, an annual message to Congress on the state of the Union and Presidential Nomination Acceptance Speech.  These speeches were processed through Salager-Mayer’s taxonomy of hedges, which facilitated the classification of their respective categories, frequencies and pragmatic functions of hedging language. The data analysis process involved a mixed method of research design, first to count the number of the hedge words, calculate their occurrence rates; and then discuss them qualitatively to identify the reasons why specific hedges, and not others, were used. The processing of the data showed that the modal auxiliary verb ‘can’, a catchword in Obama’s campaign slogan “Yes, we can”, was the most often used hedging device. This finding points to a lack of variety and complexity in political language as far as hedging devices are concerned. However, the overall number of hedging devices found in Obama's speeches is a high figure. This elicits the importance of hedging in political discourse, and proves that Obama was very mindful of his language each time he addressed the nation. His rhetorical skills found in hedging outlets of expression to fulfill some purposes but at varying degrees: possibility and persuasion, on the one hand, and fuzziness and vagueness.  However, given the limited number of the speeches processed in this research, the result needs to be confirmed by the analysis of the wider corpus of Obama’s pre- and post-election speeches.

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