Pragmatic Analyses of Martin Luther King (Jr)’s Speech: “I Have a Dream” - An Introspective Prognosis

Ubong E. Josiah, Gift Oghenerho


This paper investigates the speech of Martin Luther King (Jr.) titled: “I Have a Dream”, presented in 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial. This speech is selected for use because it involves a speaker and an audience who belong to a particular speech community. The speech is about the failed promises by the Americans whose dream advocate equality for all. The pragmatic analysis adopted in this paper anchors on the illocutionary force of the speech acts theory, following the five classifications by Seale (1975), with the aim of identifying the speech acts and the sentence structures found in the speech. The authors attempt an introspective probe into the far-reaching outcome of the speech made some six decades ago. Adopting a pragmastatistic approach, the authors reveal the speaker’s use of the five illocutionary acts and five major structural sentence sub-types, all of which point to the future state of the American people, including African-Americans. There are excessive use of representatives (43%) and simple sentences (40.3%). Directives constituted 16 sentences or 22.2% and declaratives, 15 sentences or 20.8% while commisives made up 8 sentences accounting for 11.1%. There is less use of expressives which sum up to 3 out of 72 sentences representing 4.1%. The compound and compound-complex sub-types constitute 7 and 14 sentences each accounting for 9.7% and 19.4% respectively. .Multiple sentence records the fewest number with 3 sentences accounting for 4.2% out of 72. From these analyses, we observed excessive use of representatives, directives and declaratives for speech acts on the one hand, and simple, complex and compound-complex sentences on the other. The sentences typically portray the reality of the injustice meted out on the Negros and how the speaker made effective use of words within specific contexts to influence the audience so as to bring a lasting solution to their problem. Based on an in depth pragmatic evaluation,  the authors conclude introspectively, that this speech has been instrumental to shaping the ultimate vision of American leadership towards justice and equality in the present dispensation, and is instrumental to re-the Negros.

Keywords: Pragmatic Analyses, Martin Luther King (Jr),Speech, American, Introspection, Prognosis

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