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Rhetoric is the art of speaking or writing effectively. Rhetoric is regarded primarily as the art of persuading or influencing others through the use of language. Originally limited by the ancient Greeks to the study of persuasion in public speaking, the term later came to include all forms of communication designed to persuade. Rhetoric has often been understood in a broader sense as the art of using language well, regardless of any intent to persuade. As a result, the principles of rhetoric can be said to apply to poetry and fictional prose as well as to oratory.
The study of rhetoric is concerned with the processes of composition for oral and written discourse. It treats of such matters as sentence structure; the use of the rhythms of language to produce a more vivid impression in the mind of the listener or reader; and figures of speech, which are words or phrases employed to produce special stylistic effects. Modern rhetoricians have also attempted to study the relationship between the speaker or writer and his audience by investigating the psychological reasons for the effectiveness of certain rhetorical devices.
The study of rhetoric originated with the ancient Greeks. Corax of Syracuse in the 5th century B.C. is said to have been the first to analyze the essential elements of an effective speech. The Sophists of Greece were teachers of rhetoric and other subjects who sometimes placed the ability to argue persuasively above regard for truth. The greatest ancient work on the subject is Aristotle's Rhetoric (about 322-320 B.C.), a treatise that stresses the art of appealing to reason as well as to the emotions. The Roman rhetorician Quintilian summed up Greek and Latin rhetorical theory in his Institutio Oratorio ("Oratorical Training"), written about 90 A.D. Other rhetorical treatises were also written by Longinus in the 3rd century A.D. and by Aphtonius in the 4th century A.D.
Rhetoric was a major subject of study in the Middle Ages, when it was considered one of the seven liberal arts. It continued as an important part of the academic curriculum into the 19th century. Although rhetoric as a separate field of study has declined since then, the principles of the classical rhetoricians have recently received new emphasis, particularly in college composition teaching. Some experts are predicting that a new rhetoric will emerge from experimental research in audience reaction to variations in language forms.