A Pragmatics Analysis of Negation in Selected U.S and Nigerian Presidential Speeches

Filed in Articles by on November 21, 2022

A Pragmatic Analysis of Negation in Selected U.S and Nigerian Presidential Speeches.


This study analyses and discusses the pragmatical negation in selected U.S and Nigerian presidential speeches.

It first examined the process of speaking as a form of intimated and supportive relationship that serves as the cement that holds friendships, families, communities, societies, and government together.

The focus is on political discourse which is closely related to power, that puts certain political-economic, and social ideas into practice.

Text of acceptance and inauguration speeches of President Barak Obama of the U.S.A and President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria are selected to be the working data.

Three components, Description, Interpretation, and Explanation were used as the bases for analysis and discussions.



Most of our social lives depend on speaking to one another. It is the way we form intimate and supportive relationships.

The mind of one human can reach the mind of another by a process of speaking. Speaking is the cement that holds friendship, families, communities, societies, and government together (Philips, Kougi, and Kelly 1985).

For any meaningful development and change to take place in a society, people must first speak out. At a formal level of interaction, there are many forms of public discourse, which among others include sermons, debates, and political speeches.

Central to all public discourse is language. A language is an indispensable tool more especially in political discourse. Schaffer (1996:1) supports the argument, which put forward, language as an octant factor in political space.

He said that any political action is prepared, accompanied, controlled, and influenced by language. The Held of politics related to power. The power to put certain political, economic, and social ideas into practice (Bayram, 2010).

For this to be established one of the effective means at the disposal of those concerned with politics and by extension power is the act of making speeches.

The ultimate aim of political speeches is to persuade their audiences especially of the validity of their political claims.

However, this task is challenging because the audiences of political speeches are broad and that makes the language used within that domain to be complicated. Unlike other genres of public discourse, political speeches aim at a wider range of audiences.

Hence, language in the hand of modern politicians is at risk of becoming an obfuscating rather than a means of enlightenment.

This trend in the use of language by politicians made Orwell (1946) conclude that cash is in a bad way. Orwell criticizes the English of his one citing examples from ng metaphors’, verbal ‘pretentious diction and “meaningless words.

The features outlined above by Orwell are some of the ways language is used to deceive those in power. This kind of language is used to deceive.

Or veli termed it as ‘Newspeak’ popularly known as ‘doublespeak”. Doublespeak is a language that pretends to communicate but really does not, which makes bad seem good, negative-positive. The language that avoids or shifts responsibility and conceals thoughts.

For a politician, this sort of language is risk-free. It commits the speaker to nothing. It creates no expectation in the listener beyond the dull and nauseous certainty that there will be more much more to come.

Clear language is of course risky to them. Speeches are undeniably part of the political state of affairs. Once someone has become a political figure, there will always be a time when he or she will be confronted to make a speech.

For presidents, the task of making speeches begins from the day they are declared the winner of an election and on the day of taking the oath of office.

Thus, this study will do a pragmatic analysis of negation, acceptance, and inaugural speeches of  Nigerian and US presidents.

  • A universal property of natural language is that every language is able to express negation. Every language has some devices at its disposal to reverse the truth value of a certain sentence. However, languages may differ to quite a large extent as to how they express this negation.

Not only that the languages vary with respect to the position of negative 3 elements, but also the form of negative elements and the interpretation of negatives in utterances can deviate from what intuitively might be expected are based on the context it is used. It is not only negation, that can have different interpretations based on different contexts, but also, different utterances can be subjected to different interpretations.

Voltaire, quoted in Standard Encyclopedia of philosophy, “2006, supports this that: When a diplomat says ‘yes, he means ‘perhaps’ When he says perhaps, he means to. When he says ‘no’, he is not a diplomat.’

When a lady says no, she means ‘perhaps’ when she says perhaps, she means “yes’ When she says yes she is not a lady These lines remind us that more is involved in what one communicates than what one literally says more is involved in what one means than the standard conventional meaning of the words one uses.

The words ‘yes”, ‘perhaps’ and ‘no’ each have a perfectly identifiable meaning, known to us. However, the lines above illustrate that it is possible for different speakers in different circumstances to mean different things using those words.

Thus, the more you analyze conversations like the ones above the more you come to see that it is not so much what the sentences literally mean that matters when we talk as to how they reveal the intention and strategies of the speaker themselves (Grundy, 2008).


Akmal, S. (2004) “The Language of Power and Justification” A Study of Evaluative andlnteractive Devices of Discourse Analysis in Bush and Blair Political Speeches Unpublished MA Thesis, Faculty of Arts and Humanities University of Liverpool-UK
Alexander, L.G. (1990) “Long Man English Grammar Practices for Intermediate Students” Essex: Longman.
Austn, J.L. (1962) “How to Do Things with Words” New York: Oxford University Press.
Beard, A. (2000) The Language of Politics. London: Routledge.
Crystal. D. (2008) “A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics”. 6th ed. Oxford: Cambridge University Press.
Fairciough, N. (1989) “Language arid Power” London: Longman.

Fairciough, N. (1996) “Rhetoric and Critical Discourse Analysis” A Reply to Titus Ensink and Christoph Sauer. Current Issues in Language and Society 3(3) 286-289.
Fairciough, N. (2003) “Critical Discourse Analysis, the Critical Study of Language” New York:
Foung Kin Wai, D. (2008) “A Critical Discourse Analysis of Political Speeches”. Unpublished MA Thesis. Language Studies. Hong Kong Baptish University.
Geis, M. (1987) T”he Language of Politics. New York” Springverlay.
Hewings, M. (1999) Advanced English Grammar. India: Cambridge University Press.
Jesperson, 0. (1917) “Negation in English and other Languages” New York: Kobenhavn.
Kelly, L., Kougi M. K. & Philips M. G. (1984) “Speaking in Public andPrivate. Indianna” Bobbs Merril Educational.

CSN Team.

Comments are closed.

Hey Hi

Don't miss this opportunity

Enter Your Details