Analysis of Persuasive Symbols in Ronald Reagan's The Space Shuttle "Challenger" Tragedy Address

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Politicians frequently receive negative publicity at the hand of their own use of language. Their uses of words as they relate to persuasion typically fall within one of the three dimensions of language functions, semantic or thematic. Often their persuasive language can be found to closely resemble any of these three categories simultaneously. There are many tools for analyzing persuasive symbols, many of which should be utilized when analyzing great communicators such as President Ronald Reagan. In response to the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion on January 28th, 1986 where seven brave American’s gave their lives. President Ronald Reagan made history with his famous speech, which didn’t only serve to address the great tragedy, but served as a focal point of comfort for the grieving nation. He commemorated the seven heroes who had fallen that morning in route to outer space; he expressed gratitude to NASA for their past developments and encouraged further explorations. Ronald Reagan was a great communicator, a charismatic persuader whose words delivered focus of the message through utilization of persuasive symbols. This paper aims not to be an all-inclusive guide for analyzing persuasive symbols, but will sufficiently guide the reader to be a more perceptive of persuasive language.

Tools for Analyzing Dimensions of Language and Persuasive Symbols

First, a brief background in the three dimensions of language discussed throughout this paper. The functional, semantic, or thematic dimensions of language as previously mentioned are often used in parallel with each other. Due, to this fact it is important to be able to identify them as they take place and differentiate between these dimensions i...

... middle of paper ... is capable of persuading his audience into accepting his simplistic views of the world. He makes it easier to rationalize with his stance by his strategic use of sentence structure and word choice. When analyzing a past speech or interpreting a speech as it is given, upmost priority should be given to analytical tools for analyzing persuasive symbols and language. Whether the topic at hand is motivated by great emotions as it is here or not, the audience can easily be swayed in one direction surprisingly based only on universal comprehension.


Larson, C. U. (2010). Persuasion: Reception and Responsibility. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Publishing Co.

Reagan, Ronald. “The Space Shuttle “Challenger” Tragedy Address.” American Rhetoric. IN. 28 Jan. 1986. Presidential Address.

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