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What Is the Function of Alliteration in Speeches?

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  • Written By: Laura Metz
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2016
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The function of alliteration in speeches is to be both attention getting and memorable. Advertisers and politicians use alliteration frequently for catchphrases, slogans, and jingles. Overuse of alliteration can make a speech sound childish.

Alliteration is a figure of speech in which the same consonant or consonant cluster is used at the beginning of nearby words. Examples include common sayings such as “tried and true” and “it’s now or never.” The term is often confused with consonance, the repetition of consonants in the middle or at the end of a word, and assonance, which is the repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words.

Grabbing an audience’s attention is the first purpose of alliteration in speeches. No matter where the alliteration is placed, the repeated sounds can wake up an audience, especially if delivered with subtle emphasis. Gordon Brown, a former prime minister of the United Kingdom, referred to the relationship between his country and the United States as “friendship – formed and forged over two tumultuous centuries.” The repeated consonant “f” acts as a wake-up call for the audience.

Another purpose of alliteration in speeches is to make a concept more memorable. Julius Caesar, emperor of ancient Rome, famously stated in Latin, “veni, vidi, vici,” which is “I came, I saw, I conquered” in English. The alliteration gets lost in the translation, but the phrase has been remembered for centuries.

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In the U.S., campaign slogans are often pulled from alliterative phrases within a candidate’s speech. “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” is still remembered today, even though it was a campaign slogan from William Henry Harrison’s successful bid for U.S. presidency in 1840. In the 2000 presidential race, voters had to choose between Al Gore’s “prosperity and progress” and George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism.”

As these examples show, alliteration is particularly common in political speeches. U.S. president Barack Obama used several alliterative phrases in his speech at the Fort Hood Memorial Service in 2009. First, he called the U.S. military the “finest fighting force the world has ever known,” and continued by describing their work in “distant, different, and difficult places.”

While many people enjoy alliteration in speeches, overuse can make it sound childish. Tongue twisters, such as “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,” are great examples of alliteration, but they sound ridiculous when spoken aloud. Although alliteration is a great tool, speakers should be careful not to sound like they are saying tongue twisters, particularly in formal speeches.

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umbra21
Post 3

One of the most famous speeches uses alliteration a lot and I only just noticed that after reading this article. Martin Luther King Jr.s "I Have a Dream" speech uses alliteration all the time. Even in the most famous line he uses "color of their skin... content of their character".

I tend to think of these historical speeches as just being spontaneous and from the heart, but Dr King was also obviously a talented enough writer to craft this speech carefully and with attention to all the details.

browncoat
Post 2

@Ana1234 - I have to write speeches for my mother sometimes as she's a school principal and she has to give them at assemblies and things like that.

I don't really try to make them into anything special, since most of the time a special speech is one that is saying something fairly controversial and she just wants to thank people and assure her students that they are loved and supported and so forth.

But I do find myself putting in figures of speech like alliteration, just because they sound good to the ear. I try not to go overboard though.

Ana1234
Post 1

I've been working with school children recently in a work experience and they are surprisingly fascinated with alliteration, even though they don't know what it's called. I was doing some painting with a few of them and I accidentally said something alliterative like "painting poppies" and they all jumped to point it out and then we tried to find other examples using all their names.

So I can see why it is effective in speeches when it seems to be something that kids automatically find interesting without any training to do so.

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