Language

Martin Luther King standing in front of a waterfall and river.Martin Luther King's 1963 I Have a Dream speech

The purpose of Martin Luther King’s rhetorical speech was to end racism in America and persuade the audience that everyone should have equal rights.

How does he use language to deliver a strong message?

King uses similes “until justice rolls down like waters” and “righteousness like a mighty stream” to make the reader visualise “justice” and “righteousness” as rushing water – implying that they need to be forceful and unstoppable.

Exam questions may ask you to comment on how writers use language to make an impression on the reader.

You should select words and phrases for close analysis - to show that you understand how language features affect the reader.

Below are some of the features that writers select deliberately for effect:

Language features

Nouns

Naming words. They may be:

  • concrete – naming objects, eg table, car
  • abstract – naming ideas and feelings, eg adventure, pride
  • proper – naming people, places, days, months etc, eg Marie, Sweden, Monday (always capital letters)

Adjectives

  • words that describe nouns, eg green, huge, sparkly

Verbs

Words that describe nouns:

  • action words (do/feel/be), eg run, hide, think
  • past tense, eg I played the recorder
  • present tense, eg he walks to the shops
  • future tense, eg she will go home later

Adverbs

  • words that describe verbs, eg quickly, patiently

Pronouns

Someone or something, the subject of the sentence:

  • first person, eg I, we, me, my, our, us
  • second person, eg you, yours, yourself
  • third person, eg he, she, they, them, theirs

Prepositions

  • words used to show where something is in place or time, eg at, for, with, after, to, over, from, into

Literary language features

TerminologyDefinitionExamples
simileA comparison using 'like' or 'as' to create a vivid image.'As big as a whale', 'float like a butterfly, sting like a bee'
metaphorA comparison made without using 'like' or 'as'.'Sea of troubles' and 'drowning in debt'
personificationA type of imagery in which non-human objects, animals or ideas are given human characteristics.'The jaws of the cave', 'the leaves danced in the breeze'
pathetic fallacyThe environment (usually the weather) reflects the mood of the character or scene. 'The fog crept evilly through the streets as he stalked his victim.'
onomatopoeiaThe sounds of words to express or underline their meaning, sensory imagery.'Crunch', 'pop', 'screech'
alliterationThe repetition of the same sounds usually at the beginning of words.'Reuse, renew, recycle'
assonanceThe repetition of vowel sounds in a series of words.'Harsh bark', 'moonlit pool'
rule of threeRepetition in a group of three to strengthen an idea or argument.'Freedom, equality, and justice'
connotationsImplied meanings suggested by a word rather than its literal meanings.'Red' is a colour but can imply 'danger', 'anger' or 'stop'.
hyperboleOver-the-top exaggeration for effect.'I have ten tonnes of homework to do.'
repetitionWords, phrases or ideas that are repeated for effect.'This is serious. Incredibly serious.'
rhetorical questionsA question asked for effect with no answer expected.'Do you think that I’m made of money?'
emotive languageWords chosen to bring an emotional response.'Defenceless', 'hard-hearted'

Also consider:

  • Is the text in the first person or third person? Is it personal or impersonal?
  • Which tense has the writer chosen, eg past or present? What effect does this have?
  • How sentences are structured, eg short and simple (to pack a punch) or lists (to suggest boredom or pick up the pace).

Avoid ‘feature spotting’ – you need to show that you understand the impact of writers’ language choices on the reader and not just list them.

You should always comment on the possible effects of language use on the reader – how it makes the reader respond eg, think, feel, imagine or visualise something.