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Speech and thought presentation looks at how a speaker or writer presents the speech or thought of other people. There is a range of ways in which writers and speakers can present others' words or thoughts, and the choices made are important in determining what sort of impression the reader or listener will get of the party who is being represented. For example, a politician might seek to affect voters' impressions of a rival politician by claiming to have access to their thoughts – 'Mr Osborne thinks he can get away with taking away people's livelihoods': this can portray the rival in an unfavourable light, even though the politician has no actual way of knowing what Mr Osborne thinks.

Speech presentation

The main distinction made within speech presentation is between direct and indirect speech. Direct speech (DS) is seen as the norm, as it provides a verbatim account of what was said, while indirect speech (IS) expresses what was said in the words of the narrator. However, a number of methods of presenting speech are possible:

• Narrator's report of speech (NRS): She spoke.

• Narrator's report of speech act (NRSA): She disagreed.

• Indirect speech (IS): She said that she disagreed.

• Free indirect speech (FIS): She disagreed wholeheartedly.

• Direct speech (DS): She said "I disagree wholeheartedly".

Example 1

Employing direct speech has a powerful effect, implying that the speech presented is a verbatim account of what someone actually said. Sometimes this is abused, as in the following soundbite provided by Ed Balls, the British shadow chancellor. It was used in BBC Radio's hourly news updates (02/12/2012) to demonstrate Balls' opposition to the chancellor, George Osborne's, plans for the economy:

"Unless you get people back to work, the work programme's failing. And he's cutting taxes at the top.

And then he says, George Osborne, 'I'm going to hit people at the bottom'."

Here, Balls uses direct speech to report something that he alleges Osborne to have said, painting the chancellor in a bad light. This is done by using a reporting clause in which Osborne is named as the speaker – "And then he says, George Osborne" – and the first person to further demonstrate that he is directly quoting Osborne – "I'm going to hit people at the bottom". Unless Osborne really had been in pantomime villain-mode, however, it is very unlikely that he ever actually said "I'm going to hit people at the bottom". Nonetheless, Balls' account of his speech will have been heard by thousands, and potentially affected many people's views as to Osborne's policy decisions and character.





 
Thought presentation

Thought presentation differs from speech presentation in that it is the indirect form that is considered the norm, as it comes closest to acknowledging the fact that we do not actually have direct access to other people's thoughts and feelings by not claiming to correspond precisely to the thinker's precise thoughts:

• Narrator's report of thought (NRT): He thought about the economy.

• Narrator's report of thought act (NRTA): He considered the likelihood of a double-dip recession.

• Indirect thought (IT): He thought that he couldn't see past the gloom.

• Free indirect thought (FIT): He couldn't see past the gloom.

• Direct thought (DT): He thought "I can't see past this gloom".

Example 2

The significance of the subtle differences between the various forms of speech presentation was highlighted by an advert for Rick Perry's 2012 campaign for the Republican nomination. In the advert, Barack Obama is shown saying "We've been a little bit lazy I think over the last couple of decades". Perry then informs the viewer that "That's what our president thinks is wrong with America – that Americans are lazy", in spite of the fact that Obama was actually commenting on the US government's inability to attract foreign investment. Although in one way Perry is restrained in using IT (which doesn't claim to represent a faithful account of what exactly someone thought), the wilfully imaginative version of what Obama is actually thinking is misleading.

 

Spotting speech and thought presentation

When reading an article or opinion piece attacking a certain political figure or party, take into account the way speech and thought are presented. When the speech of a disliked politician is being presented, is direct speech used to acknowledge exactly what was said, or is a more indirect form used, allowing the writer to slip in aspects of their own worldview? Perhaps there is frequent use of thought presentation (e.g. 'Tony Blair thinks he can get away with his constant lying'), with the writer claiming to have access to the actual thought processes of the party concerned (note that writers have more poetic licence when it comes to thought presentation, as no one can claim to have been 'misquoted' in the same way they can with the presentation of speech). Does it feel as though the parties whose speech or thoughts are being represented are having their point of view portrayed fairly, or are their words or thoughts being manipulated to suit the writer's purposes (try to be as objective as possible here!)?

 

Recommended reading

'Presenting Others' Speech and Thoughts' explains and gives examples of the different speech and thought categories, as well as showing how the choices made in speech and thought presentation can have ideological effects:

Jeffries, Lesley. 2010. Critical Stylistics: The Power of English. Hampshire: Palgrave, 130-145.

'Speech and Thought Presentation' in the following introduction to the application of stylistic analysis to fictional texts explains the various categories of speech and thought presentation, and their possible effects:

Leech, Geoffrey and Mick Short. 2007. Style in Fiction [second edition]. Harlow: Pearson Longman, 255-281.

 

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