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Rhetorical structure of opening addresses

As a sub-genre of the genre-colony of political speeches, opening addresses share most of their characteristic features, including the macro?communicative purpose of persuading the audience to accept the speaker’s understanding of reality and to support the ideologically biased views and policy he/she suggests (Dedaic 2006: 700). More specifically, similarly to all speeches delivered within the United Nations system, the opening addresses of the Directors-General of UNESCO promote institutional worldviews across different cultures, thus providing an ideological basis for the cooperative efforts of governments to resolve conflicts of interest over important world issues. Owing to the specificity of the international context and their symbolic and ritualistic character, however, opening addresses differ from the majority of political speeches in that they do not assume a high level of shared background knowledge and do not have the ulterior aim of persuading the audience to vote for the speaker or the party he/she represents. Consequently, drawing on the Aristotelian mapping of the domain of rhetoric, the rhetorical genre of diplomatic addresses can be defined as epideictic oratory for ceremonial occasions (Donahue and Prosser 1997: 4) which may include deliberative aspects.

As is typical of epideictic oratory (cf. Trosborg’s (2000) study on the genre of inaugural addresses, also categorized as epideictic oratory) opening addresses focus on the present, though they may refer to past events and to the future; they endeavour to perpetuate common values and to urge the audience to take a specific course of action. Since they presuppose a high level of personal involvement, the expression of feelings and judgements, and an evaluative treatment of people, actions and events by emphasizing praise or condemnation, opening addresses appeal to the personal and cultural values of the audience rather than to logic. When assigning values to social actors and events the orator has to take into consideration the attitude of the audience and anticipate favourable or hostile reactions in order to use appropriate persuasive strategies and build a coherent discourse world which might be shared by all participants in the communication. On the other hand, when interpreting the speeches, the audience judges the ability of the speaker to construct a coherent discourse and to motivate an appreciation of the need for suggested future behaviour by reference to common values. It can therefore be assumed that in the genre of opening addresses the persuasive force of the rhetoric depends primarily on the authority and trustworthiness of the speaker, which grant him the right to make moral judgements.

The rhetorical structure of opening addresses reflects their macrofunction in the reinforcing of the institutional identities of the participants and the establishing of the ideological framework in which the event takes place. It comprises seven basic moves (Dontcheva-Navratilova 2009):

  • (1) Salutation-The main purpose of the opening section of the speech is to create contact with the audience, establish social relations and draw attention to the importance of the event. To achieve these goals the speaker addresses the listeners directly and strives to create common ground by giving acknowledgements to his/her hosts and to the audience, and by recognizing personal and/or professional association with (members of) the audience. While not necessarily related to the topic of the speech, the salutation contributes to the construal of the existential coherence of the speaker by highlighting his/her continuous personal involvement with the audience and with the event (the place/country/ region where the event takes place) and by stressing the commitment of both the speaker and the audience to the UNESCO ideology.
  • (2) Asserting centrality of the issue-An assertion of the centrality of the issue presupposes its evaluation from the point of view of an ideology based on shared common values which transcends national boundaries. In the context of intergovernmental communication agreement on such an ideology is an essential pre-condition for successful diplomatic negotiations between proponents of different or even competing value systems. By his/her presence and the delivery of the ceremonial address the Director-General displays the interest and involvement of UNESCO in the event and thus endeavours to strengthen the beliefs of the audience and their feeling of belonging to a community which shares the ideology supported by the organization.
  • (3) Introducing the situation-The third rhetorical move offers an appraisal of the situation, process or event of regional or international importance from the point of view of the institutional ideology. The evaluative description of facts relevant to the situation and related previous actions is presented as shared knowledge and beliefs of both the speaker and the audience; it is supposed to urge all participants to perpetuate the values that have been praised and to eradicate those that have been condemned.

The following two rhetorical moves do not appear in all opening addresses, as their inclusion is restricted to speeches which have a marked deliberative aspect related to the necessity of dealing with a specific problem and an urging of the audience to support a suggested course of action.

  • (4) Indicating a problem-When situations, processes or events are assigned negative values from the point of view of the institutional ideology, they are regarded as problems which require a particular course of action leading to the eradication of the undesirable state of affairs. The description of the problem aims at highlighting its urgency and often includes a strong emotional appeal. Since the previous moves of the address are supposed to have established the institutional ideology as shared by all interactants, the evaluation of the problem provided by the orator assumes the agreement of the audience with the speaker’s assessment.
  • (5) Suggesting a solution to the problem-This move aims to suggest intervention measures pertaining to the scope of action of the organization and urge the audience and the international community to take urgent measures to change the undesirable state of affairs so as to bring it into harmony with the value system shared by the UNESCO community.
  • (6) Evaluating the contribution of the event or suggested action plan-

The sixth move serves as a conclusion to the argumentation part of the speech and has a function similar to that of a coda in a narrative, i.e. the drawing of concluding remarks evaluating the value of the issue or event under consideration. Thus the orator asserts the institutional value system as shared by the international community and urges the audience to participate actively in the event and to persevere in their efforts to contribute to the realization of common goals.

(7) Closure-The last very brief rhetorical move in which the speaker wishes success to the event and thanks the audience for their attention, has a primarily interpersonal function and marks the end of the contribution of the current speaker.

As this brief discussion of the rhetorical structure of opening addresses shows, the individual moves of the speech contribute in different ways to the construal of the speaker’s identity and to the assertion of the institutional ideology. While the opening moves of addresses focus on persuading the audience to trust the speaker and to strengthen the allegiance to the institutional ideology, subsequent moves convey moral judgements from the point of view of the established value system and suggest a particular future behaviour. The analysis of the pragmatic functions of personal pronouns and modal expressions below intends to show how the speakers use these devices to enhance the persuasive force of their rhetoric.

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