UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Multimodal rhetorical figures Guilbeault , Douglas Richard


Rhetoricians have, for millennia, catalogued a set of persuasive techniques called rhetorical figures, but so far, they have examined them almost exclusively in the verbal modalities – i.e. in the written and spoken word. This paper shows how, in embodied contexts, figures also draw from bodily modalities to enhance their argumentative effects. Focusing on political speeches, I show how hand gestures are systematically incorporated into antithesis, a figure wherein contrastive phrases are framed in parallel form: the stronger lead, the weaker follow. Cognitive approaches to gesture provide my analysis with the tools to use gesture as a window into the embodied foundations of figures and their persuasiveness. I show how various features of gesture, including hand dominance, distance, and shape, allow speakers to channel the uptake of figures in terms of viewpoint and metaphor. With evidence that gestures are produced and perceived implicitly, my study suggests that persuasive aims are implemented by the subconscious mechanisms of multimodal cognition. I further show how multimodality participates in other figures, even in multimodal environments outside of gesture and speech, with each environment giving rise to a novel set of rhetorical affordances. These findings provide the initial steps toward a broader theory of multimodal rhetoric that examines how figures and other forms of persuasion originate from the body and evolve through the cultural and technological engineering of multimodal experience.

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada