The paradox of face threats in Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr’s speeches

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Cosmas Rai Amenorvi


This paper sought to find out how face-threatening acts are employed as a rhetorical strategy of persuasion to achieve positive effects by Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr in their speeches. Using the politeness theory and particularly its face-threatening acts as the theoretical framework, speeches of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr were purposively sampled from Carson and Shepard (2001) and Malcolm (2020, 1990) and analysed with focus on the face threats in these speeches and how they are strategically conveyed to produce the unnatural positive effects of face threats. Findings reveal that both Malcolm and King employ potential face threats in their speeches. However, they employ various rhetorical strategies such as language beauty, self-inclusion, artistic self-contradiction to soften the harshness of their face threats, thereby achieving approval from their audience. Moreover, though Malcolm and King both use face threats as a persuasive tactic in their speeches, they differ markedly in the way they do it; Malcolm is more direct with his face threats while King prefers the indirect style, and it is only Malcolm who uses point-blank expletives or insults as face threats in his speeches. This study has two implications: it pushes the boundaries of the politeness theory in supporting the call that face threats can achieve positive effects, it also shows that even before the politeness theory gained ground orators such and Malcolm and King had employed its concept in their speeches, revealing the indelible statuses they have left as two of the world’s greatest orators.


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How to Cite
Amenorvi, C. R. (2020). The paradox of face threats in Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr’s speeches. Nairobi Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, 4(4), 91-110.

How to Cite

Amenorvi, C. R. (2020). The paradox of face threats in Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr’s speeches. Nairobi Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, 4(4), 91-110.


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