The Ethos, Pathos and Logos of Obamas Speech

11/23/2010 00:00:00
Penulis/Peneliti : Setiono Sugiharto


Bidang Penelitian : Linguistik


Jurnal : The Jakarta Post


Volume : 2010


Tahun : 20/11/2010


Mass hysteria, created by some 6,000 attendees during the recent speech delivered by US President Barack Obama, can certainly be attributed to not only the president’s charming, relaxed and affable persona, but also to his listener-friendly speech. 

Known as a shrewd orator and politician, Obama is always able to put his audiences into his frame of mind everywhere he delivers his speeches. 

The fact that the speech he delivered at the University of Indonesia amazed most Indonesians is reminiscent of an Arisotelean tradition of oratory, which emphasizes three modes of appeal: ethos, pathos and logos. 

Ethos is simply the personal appeal of the orator. Pathos appeals to the emotions of the audience through the appropriate choice of topoi (themes) and tropes (metaphors) of the oration, and logos appeals to logic or reason

Highly personal in tone, substantive and dialogic in its content, relaxed and light in the choice of its dictions (coupled with a local argot), the speech reflects Obama’s character as an outstanding orator, who refrains from using stilted, ceremonial oratory styles with least understood political jargon. What is more, Obama’s supple paralanguage (facial expressions, gestures, eye movements) mirrors his prowess in demonstrating the art of oratory.   

His personal tone in the speech indicated by the frequent use of the personal pronoun “I” demonstrates the importance of voicing one’s personal interests, biases, values and opinions –  essential parts of democracy. And with plenty use of the inclusive “we” implies a dialogic nature to his speech, inviting the audience to ponder over the discussed issues such as the vital role of democracy and the maintenance of universal values upheld by the two countries.

 The inclusive “we”, in the context of the speech, is an effective linguistic sign used by Obama as a Christian to embrace the ideology of our Muslim-dominated country to call for commitment to upholding what he calls “shared humanity”. The quote of his country’s motto E pluribus unu, which he equalizes to Indonesia’s Bhinneka tuggal Ika (unity in diversity) supports this assertion.

The mode of pathos lies, in fact, in the nostalgic opening part of the speech. Prior to mentioning the strategic partnership between Indonesia and the US in the body of his speech, Obama intelligently spoke about his nostalgic memories of four years of living in Indonesia during his childhood and fore grounded it as the topoi (themes) in the opening part of the speech.

Initiated with a greeting in Arabic and Indonesian, and followed with an emotive utterance Indonesia bagian dari diri saya (Indonesia is part of me), Obama further elaborated his narrative mainly relating to his childhood life as well as his own family life in Jakarta. 

By attaching such a theme as an introductory remark, Obama put his audience in to his frame of mind before he proceeded to elucidate the partnership and the role of democracy in the two countries. In doing so, he tried to engage with his audience by filling them with nostalgia for his childhood life in Jakarta.

Finally, appealing to logic or reason are clearly heard when Obama touched on areas such as development, democracy, and religious faith, which are, as he argues, fundamental to human progress. 
Reasons for arguing and counter-arguing these issues are explicitly spelt out, and proof to strengthen his arguments are made clear through real examples.   
No less intriguing is the speech’s epilogue, which Obama formulated in the form of a strong reminder for the country whose practice of democracy is still in its infancy. Still seeing the relevance of the country’s Pancasila ideology, Obama reminded us that as a consequence of practicing democracy “Islam flourishes, but so do other faiths”. 
This is, however, not simply lip service, as Obama has proven his commitment to respecting pluralism in the world by allowing the construction of a grand mosque near the Ground Zero location.
And more recently, despite his short stay in Jakarta, his memorable visit to the grand Istiqlal mosque further testifies his commitment to honoring other faiths.

The writer is an associate professor at Atma Jaya Catholic University of Indonesia, Jakarta. He is chief editor of the Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching and can be contacted at

Quoted from The Jakarta Post: