Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama’s Inaugural Speech – A Lesson In Parallelism

In this blog, I wear two hats: writer and teacher.

As a writer, I try to improve my writing as much as I can. And so, I log on to writing websites and my favorite is www.writersdigest.com. There, I came upon an article entitled “Using Paralellism in Your Writing” by Bonnie Trenga.

What is parallelism? It is when elements of a sentence “have the same weight and are often the same part of speech. Noun, noun, noun. Check. Adjective, adjective, adjective. Yep. Verb, verb, verb. Parallelism is all about equality; parallelism creates a nice rhythm in your sentence.”

The author gave tips and instructions on how to ensure parallelism in one’s writing.

For practice, guess what? I chose President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address!

You know how many parallelisms I counted in his speech? A whopping 68! [I challenge you to do your own counting.]


Here are but some of them (in italics):

My fellow citizens: I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors.

Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shattered.

Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things

They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction. [There is a double parallelism here. Do you see it?]

But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions -- that time has surely passed. [There is a missing word here. What is it?]

Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America. [Tell me, where did the parallelism go off-tangent?]

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose and necessity to courage. [Do you see the three sets of parallelisms here?]

Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint. [Is this another case of an off-tangent parallelism or that of two parallelisms in a single sentence?]

It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new, the instruments with which we meet them may be new, but those values upon which our success depends, honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old.

What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.

Go ahead, get anybody’s speech and count the number of parallelisms. Like me, you might find the exercise interesting, exciting, and fun!

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