Promising in American Presidential Discourse

Author: Nawal

Keywords: Promising, linguistic function, context, commitment, political discourse


The speech act of promising is considered as the most influential strategic device to sway the hearers to the speaker’s point of view, and it represents a prerequisite to a successful interaction among individuals. It is studied to investigate how people use it as a functional unit in communication. In other words, to understand how promising is produced by the speaker and conceived by the hearer, it is essential to identify the linguistic function of the act when it is used in a clause within a context, more specifically, political context. Besides, promising is classified within the tact maxim and generosity maxim by Leech (1983). The present study is intended to analyze the speeches of two politicians; namely, President Barack Obama and his Opponent Mitt Romney in their presidential elections in 2012. Halliday’s transitivity theory is used as a model of analysis not only to examine the speaker’s sincerity, but also to show the linguistic options available for the speaker to express commitment. It is concluded that President Obama and the politician Mitt Romney tend to be not involved in promises that they cannot keep. Even when making promises, they prefer to make them implicit rather than explicit. Consequently, the two politicians’ conventional practice of promising does not necessarily indicate the use of the word ‘promise’, but they bind themselves to future actions.