A Brief Stylistic Analysis of “What Adults Can Learn from
Kids” Delivered by Adora Svitak
Public speeches are speeches delivered in public for a special purpose, such as open-class lectures or seminars in a university, religious preaches in the church, speeches delivered at a meeting or conference, and the inaugural address of the president elect,etc. This paper is mainly to study the styles of language used in the public speeches, and its research material belongs to the informative speech, its remarkable characteristics are clarity and simplicity. The speech-- What Adults Can Learn from Kids, is selected from the TED,which is delivered by a Chinese American girl Adora Svitak.
This thesis is an attempt to apply the theories of practical stylistics to analyze the style of the public speeches. In this article, Adora Svitak’s speech will mainly be analyzed from four aspects, namely, phonological, lexical, syntactic, and semantic levels. By the practical study of this public speaking, we can not only comprehend the style features of public speech but also appreciate and learn the speaker’s skills of achieving the purpose of the speaking.
Key Words: public speech, Adora Svitak, stylistic analysis, stylistic features
“What Adults Can Learn from Kids”, which is delivered by Adora Svitak, a Chinese American girl has been called the most clever girl in the world, on February 2010 on the stage of TED in Long Beach. The audience including many academic elites in different fields and the majority of them are adults, while the speaker is just a thirteen-year-old girl. And the little girl Adora Svitak says the world needs “childish” thinking: bold ideas, wild creativity and optimism. Kid’s big dreams deserve high expectations, and she says, starting with grownups’ willingness to learn from children as much as to teach. Reviewing the whole speech in such context, we find out many stylistic features in this speech and it really deserves our exploration to exhibit what the stylistic characteristics of informative speech are. The examination will be carried out in four perspectives, namely, phonological, lexical, syntactical and semantic analyses.
2. A Stylistic Analysis of Speech
2. 1Phonological Features
Phonological devices play a very important role in public speeches, since they are delivered orally. Therefore, skillful use and control of voice, pitch, pause, tempo and the employment of various phonetic figures of speech such as alliteration, assonance, consonance should be essential to the success of the delivery. Here, the main focus is put on stress, rhyme and tempo.
Stress is defined as the prominence of sounds. It is the result of extra force used in pronouncing a particular word or a syllable. It is a very important way of expressing different feelings or implying different meanings in oral communication. In order to express her emotion and ideas more effectively, Adora uses lots of stress in her speech, so we can easily find stress in this speaking,for instance, the last sentence in the first paragraph,“Ask yourself: Who's responsible?” Adults. In this sentence, both “Who” and “Adults” are stressed, which show the speaker’s surprise and doubt to the question and the answer.
Rhyme is the repetition of identical end sounds. And it includes alliteration, assonance and consonance. Rhyme is one of the key points to make your speech sounds more rhythmically and in Adora’s speech, we can find some alliteration, such as “irresponsibility and irrational thinking” in the second paragraph and “broken-hearted snakes and bacon boys” in the fourth paragraph. And there are also some parallelism in the speech, the paralleled words or syntactical structures foster a flexible tension between stressed and unstressed syllables, accelerated and decelerated pace of speaking and produced a consistent rhythmical cadence. And all of these make Adora’s speaking more encouraging and motivational. Adora effectively activated in the minds of audience a creative and ambitious generation.
Tempo refers to the speed of speaking. The speed of speaking of a particular person is usually steady. But when we are making a public speech, our tempo is usually change. There are many different kinds of tempo reflected in both monosyllables and sentences. Adora opened her speech at a pace of 136 words per minute, the pace of the middle section of her speech reach up to 179 per minute and she finished it at 121. So we can know that the tempo of Adora’s speech is in the increasing “accele-rando” first and then in the decreasing “rallentando”. And the quick tempo in Adora’s speaking indicates the her excitement and enthusiasm.
2.2 Lexical Features
Lexis refers to the choice of words and expressions, and here, we will focus our attention on the use of big words(words more than 6letters) and the first person pronouns and the second person pronouns.
2.2.1 Uses of Big Words and Abstract Words
Public speech as the very formal activity, it is devotes particular care to the choice of words. The words used in public speech is obviously difficult and complicated than the daily conversation. And comparatively, there are more big words and abstract words than simple words.
The use of big words and abstract words is more informative and can evoke vivid 2
images in the hearer’s mind. We can find many big words in Adora’s speech like frequent, irrational, exhibit, responsible, abolish, benefit, depleted, scarce, audacity, prevalently and so on . And on the other hand, the uses of the abstract words in public speech is the distinct feature. This kinds of words are particular prominence in this speech, for example, challenge, behavior, knowledge, childhood, reality, heirloom etc. The uses of these words not only increase the difficulty of understanding, but also make language more official and serious, increase the credibility of the speech.
2.2.2 Uses of Person Pronouns
The other lexical features of public speech is the uses of the first person pronouns. Generally speaking, the first person pronouns (I, we) and the second person pronouns (You) are frequently used, The third person pronouns are rarely used. The particular usage of the person pronouns can be seen in the following table. Table 1: The usage of the person pronouns
According to the above table, we can see that the usage of the first person pronouns I, me, our, us, we, my and the second person pronouns you, your are frequent, while the third person pronouns they, their used much less. This is because when the speaker Adora refers to herself or her own opinion she would like to use the first person pronouns, for the first person pronouns make the audience feel intimate. Hence it is easy to win the support of the audience. And in this speeches, the first person pronouns refers to the children, while the second person pronouns is the adults. The frequent usage of we and you here is to express Adora’s ideas about you adults and we children, and she always catch the attention of audience.
2.3 Syntactic Features
Although the public speech is more serious than the daily conversation, it less official than the scientific and legal style. While in such a formal speech, the capability of the sentences are fully extended , the function of the sentences are further improved. The length of the sentences is the precondition of lager amount of information and improving the expression of all kinds of logic relations. So we will analyze the syntactic features in sentence length and tenses.
2.3.1 Sentence Length
There are 64 sentences and 1258 words in Adora’s speech, and the length of average sentence are 19.7 words, it’s longer than the average English sentence length--17.6 words per sentence. And in this speech, the longest sentence which has 48 words in the sixth paragraph and the shortest sentence only has 1 word in the first paragraph.
Table 2: Sentences length
From the above table, we can know that the most of sentences in Adora’s speech are 10-30 words, about 53.7%, the sentences which words less than 10 are 25%. And the short sentences like this are terse and forceful. For instance, the shortest sentences in this speech, “adults”, the only word sentence brings out the theme of Adora’s speech accurately. In addition, the long sentences can express the comparatively complex relations and show the graceful stylistic effects. 2.3.2 Tenses
Tenses used in public speeches are complicated. But, the flexible uses of the tenses is also the basic quality of being a public speaker. Generally speaking, the main tense of the public speech is the simple present tense; while the simple past tense, the future indefinite tense and the present perfect tense are also commonly used tenses in public speeches.
Table 3: The category of tenses
We can gain something from the above table, which the simple present tense is the major tense in Adora’s public speech. It shows that Adora pays her attention to the current situation about adults and children. And Adora knows that the children’s main task and responsibility is to break through the current difficulties with adults. 2.4 Semantic Features
Public speech is an art of speaking, the speakers always use all kinds of figures of speech to enhance the infection and influence of their languages. Various kinds of figures of speech inlay almost every wonderful speech skillfully. And here, we will analyze the semantic features in the figures of speech-- parallelism.
The child prodigy like Adora Svitak is no exception. In Adora’s speech, she uses many parallelism, this kind of figures of speech can easily express speaker’s strong emotion and show speaker’s majestic momentum. We can find many instances of the use of parallelism in Adora’s speech. For example:
... make irrational demands,
...exhibit irresponsible behavior,
...display any other signs of being normal American citizens;
...Anne Frank touched millions with her powerful account of the Holocaust,
...Ruby Bridges helped end segregation in the United States,
...Charlie Simpson helped to raise 120,000 pounds for Haiti on his little bike. ...
The use of above parallelisms in her speech makes the speech more vivid,sounds more rhythmically, can give audience most deep impression on it. And the most
importantly, it reinforces the meaning and helps to build up an emotional climax and therefore very effective.
This article makes a brief analysis on the speech of “What Adults Can Learn from Kids” in four perspectives,which is phonology, lexis, syntax, and semantic. And as we analyzed above, stylistic devices are frequently used in the discourse of literary works especially in speech, to achieve certain specific purposes. And generally speaking, the public speech may have following stylistic characteristics. First one, it must be persuasive. Second one, it should be emotional so as to be convincing. And without doubt, the speech “What Adults Can Learn from Kids” which is delivered by Adora Svitak accomplished above two points perfectly.
Adora Svitak: What Adults Can Learn from Kids?
Now, I want to start with a question: When was the last time you were called childish? For kids like me, being called childish can be a frequent occurrence. Every time we make irrational demands, exhibit irresponsible behavior, or display any other signs of being normal American citizens, we are called childish, which really bothers me. After all, take a look at these events: Imperialism and colonization, world wars, George W. Bush. Ask yourself: Who's responsible? Adults.
Now, what have kids done? Well, Anne Frank touched millions with her powerful account of the Holocaust, Ruby Bridges helped end segregation in the United States, and, most recently, Charlie Simpson helped to raise 120,000 pounds for Haiti on his little bike. So, as you can see evidenced by such examples, age has absolutely nothing to do with it. The traits the word childish addresses are seen so often in adults that we should abolish this age-discriminatory word when it comes to criticizing behavior associated with irresponsibility and irrational thinking. Thank you. Then again, who's to say that certain types of irrational thinking aren't exactly what the world needs? Maybe you've had grand plans before, but stopped yourself, thinking: That's impossible or that costs too much or that won't benefit me. For better or worse, we kids aren't hampered as much when it comes to thinking about reasons why not to do things. Kids can be full of inspiring aspirations and hopeful thinking, like my wish that no one went hungry or that everything were free kind of utopia. How many of you still dream like that and believe in the possibilities? Sometimes a knowledge of history and the past failures of utopian ideals can be a burden because you know that if everything were free, that the food stocks would become depleted, and scarce and lead to chaos. On the other hand, we kids still dream about perfection. And that's a good thing because in order to make anything a reality, you have to dream about it first.
In many ways, our audacity to imagine helps push the boundaries of possibility. For instance, the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington, my home state -- yoohoo Washington -- (Applause) has a program called Kids Design Glass, and kids draw their
own ideas for glass art. Now, the resident artist said they got some of their best ideas through the program because kids don't think about the limitations of how hard it can be to blow glass into certain shapes. They just think of good ideas. Now, when you think of glass, you might think of colorful Chihuly designs or maybe Italian vases, but kids challenge glass artists to go beyond that into the realm of broken-hearted snakes and bacon boys, who you can see has meat vision. (Laughter)
Now, our inherent wisdom doesn't have to be insiders' knowledge. Kids already do a lot of learning from adults, and we have a lot to share. I think that adults should start learning from kids. Now, I do most of my speaking in front of an education crowd, teachers and students, and I like this analogy. It shouldn't just be a teacher at the head of the classroom telling students do this, do that. The students should teach their teachers. Learning between grown ups and kids should be reciprocal. The reality, unfortunately, is a little different, and it has a lot to do with trust, or a lack of it.
Now, if you don't trust someone, you place restrictions on them, right. If I doubt my older sister's ability to pay back the 10 percent interest I established on her last loan, I'm going to withhold her ability to get more money from me until she pays it back. (Laughter) True story, by the way. Now, adults seem to have a prevalently restrictive attitude towards kids from every "don't do that," "don't do this" in the school handbook, to restrictions on school internet use. As history points out, regimes become oppressive when they're fearful about keeping control. And, although adults may not be quite at the level of totalitarian regimes, kids have no, or very little, say in making the rules, when really the attitude should be reciprocal, meaning that the adult population should learn and take into account the wishes of the younger population.
Now, what's even worse than restriction is that adults often underestimate kids abilities. We love challenges, but when expectations are low, trust me, we will sink to them. My own parents had anything but low expectations for me and my sister. Okay, so they didn't tell us to become doctors or lawyers or anything like that, but my dad did read to us about Aristotle and pioneer germ fighters when lots of other kids were hearing "The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round." Well, we heard that one too, but "Pioneer Germ Fighters" totally rules. (Laughter)
I loved to write from the age of four, and when I was six my mom bought me my own laptop equipped with Microsoft Word. Thank you Bill Gates and thank you Ma. I wrote over 300 short stories on that little laptop, and I wanted to get published. Instead of just scoffing at this heresy that a kid wanted to get published, or saying wait until you're older, my parents were really supportive. Many publishers were not quite so encouraging. One large children’s publisher ironically saying that they didn't work with children. Children’s publisher not working with children? I don't know, you're kind of alienating a large client there. (Laughter) Now, one publisher, Action Publishing, was willing to take that leap and trust me, and to listen to what I had to say. They published my first book, "Flying Fingers," -- you see it here -- and from there on, it's gone to speaking at hundreds of schools, keynoting to thousands of educators, and finally, today, speaking to you.
I appreciate your attention today, because to show that you truly care, you listen. But there's a problem with this rosy picture of kids being so much better than adults. Kids grow up and become adults just like you. (Laughter) Or just like you, really? The goal is not to turn kids into your kind of adult, but rather better adults than you have been, which may be a little challenging considering your guys credentials, but the way progress happens is because new generations and new eras grow and develop and become better than the previous ones. It's the reason we're not in the Dark Ages anymore. No matter your position of place in life, it is imperative to create opportunities for children so that we can grow up to blow you away. (Laughter)
Adults and fellow TED sters, you need to listen and learn from kids and trust us and expect more from us. You must lend an ear today, because we are the leaders of tomorrow, which means we're going to be taking care of you when you're old and senile. No, just kidding. No, really, we are going to be the next generation, the ones who will bring this world forward. And, in case you don't think that this really has meaning for you, remember that cloning is possible, and that involves going through childhood again, in which case, you'll want to be heard just like my generation. Now, the world needs opportunities for new leaders and new ideas. Kids need opportunities to lead and succeed. Are you ready to make the match? Because the world's problems shouldn't be
the human family's heirloom.