On Syntactical Features of John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Speech


校园英语·上旬 2017年8期


【Abstract】In the United States, inaugural speech plays an important role in political field. The study of the Syntactical features of inaugural speeches can help the language learners improve their communicative ability and analytical ability. This thesis aims to make clear the Syntactical features of John F. Kennedys inaugural speech at two levels: sentence types and sentence structures.

【Key words】John F. Kennedy; Inaugural speech; Syntactical features

The Syntactical Features of John F. Kennedys Inaugural Speech

Syntax is the study of the rules governing the ways words are combined to form sentences. In fact; the appropriate choice of sentences can make the communication between the addresser and the audiences more effective. In this chapter, the interrelationship between stylistic and syntax is analyzed.

1. Sentence Structures

Traditionally, sentence is regarded as the minimum element of language that can express complete meaning. The traditional approach divides sentences into simple sentences and non-simple sentences. In peoples daily communication, simple and short sentences are commonly used to make the conversation proceed more smoothly.

Example 1:

-Hi, nice to see you.

-Nice to see you too. You look very good.

This is a set of daily conversation, which shows that people are more likely to use simple words and sentence structures when they speak to others. By this way, they can maintain a comfortable relationship with others.

However the sentences of public speeches are longer and more complex than those in daily communication.

Example 2:

In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course.

In example 2, which is cut out from Kennedys inaugural speech, it is obvious that although the sentences of Kennedys inaugural speech are more complex and formal than daily conversation. It is widely believed that long sentences are more formal than short ones. Inaugural speeches have both the characteristics of formal expression and daily communication.

2. Sentence Types

According to the framework by functional approach, sentences are mainly classified into two types: indicative sentences and imperative sentences. In this part, declarative sentences and jussive sentences are underlined as the main types of sentences in presidential speeches. Beyond that, another special type of sentences in Kennedys inaugural speech is elaborated, that is the biblical type.

There are some examples of declarative sentences in Kennedys speech:

Example 3:

The world is very different now.

Example 4:

We dare not tempt them with weakness.

These are the objective social facts shared by both Kennedy and the American citizens, so Kennedy uses the declarative present tense to describe them. There are also examples of imperative sentences in Kennedys speech:

Example 5:

So let us begin anew, remembering on both sides that civility is not a sigh of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof.

Example 6:

And so, my fellow citizens ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

These are the requirements and commands made by Kennedy on American citizens, so imperative sentences are applied here to show his strong affirmation, which is to struggle with the hostile nations by unifying all the Americans. A special kind of sentence type in Kennedys inaugural speech is the biblical language. As the first catholic president in the history of United States, his language is full of biblical features.

More examples are provided here to show the biblical language in Kennedys inaugural speech.

Example 7:

And yet the same revolutionary belief for which our forebears fought is still at issue around the globe.

Here Kennedy uses the word forebears rather than ancestors because “forebears” is more formal and solemn.

Example 8:

And so, my fellow citizens of America ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

In this sentence, “ask not” is such an expression that is not used in modern society any more but a typical sentence type in old English. Besides, Kennedy chooses very common conjunctions “and” and “so” to start a new paragraph. All these ways of expressing are characteristics of biblical sentences.

Conclusion: By exploring and analyzing the significant syntactical features of the language used in Kennedys inaugural speech, it is concluded that Kennedys inaugural speech is full of his own characteristics. It can be said that the study of the syntactical features of inaugural speeches can make people have a better understanding of western cultures and improve their own speaking skills.


[1]Zarefsky,David.Public Speaking:Strategies for Success[M].Boston:Allyn and Bacon,1999.