Foundations of Rhetoric: Pathos

Pathos, the appeal to one’s emotions. Pathos is usually the easiest of the rhetorical appeals to talk about with students. The ease of this conversation is probably because of how seemingly universal appealing to the emotions of the interlocutor are across large swaths of life. It easy enough to bring in a playlist that moves from somber ballads of love lost to driving dance beats about that night in Ibiza to the stirring anthem of personal liberation. Likewise, it’s easy enough to find soft drink advertisements that appeal to a range of emotions. What I find is tougher is connecting pathos to academic writing—getting students to see that there’s room for emotion-based appeals even in the otherwise objective world of academic prose.

In my Writing as Inquiry this semester, I am trying to make it a point to rethink my approach to the rhetorical appeals—something that digs deeper into them and their connection to academic writing and knowledge construction. Reconceptualizing the rhetorical appeals is important to me because I want to move beyond surface-level discussions of these three vital rhetorical tools to more clearly link them to the acts of academic writing and knowledge construction. But, what does this look like in talking about pathos? Especially when students equate objective writing with emotionally detached writing?

One way to do this is to link pathos to its oft-forgotten family member on the rhetorical appeals tree—kairos. Kairos refers to the timing when it comes to entering an argument. However, I’d like to take Kairos down from the macro-level of overall argument planning down to the more intermediate-level of when to deploy which appeals in argumentation and writing. So, if we talk to our students about the rhetorical situation that they are replying to and to consider the kairotic forces at play, then we can begin to highlight for students that there are times in academic, and in professional writing, where pathos appeals may be the best tool in helping them to plan their argument.

A good place to look for authentic readings for students to see pathos being deployed in academic writing are in book chapters and journal articles that make up parts of a debate over some controversial issue in a field. Take, for example, the Farris/Truscott debates over error correction in L2 writing, which appeared in The Journal of Second Langauge Writing. There were plenty of moments across all four, or so, articles in this series of comments and responses where emotional appeals come into effect in a bit to sway the reader. Or, if you really want to lay bare just how sassy academic can be, take a look at the Phillipson/Crystal debates over linguistic variation in English that appeared in Applied Linguistics. There are some great zingers there with anger and upset seemingly dripping off the page.

Now, beyond the sick burns in these collections of articles, they are good examples of when it may be necessary to deploy emotion in our writing and how that influences the reception of these texts. By considering authorial intention alongside audience response, we unlock a potent lesson for our students when it comes to academic writing and emotional appeals. Namely, the decision not to eschew emotional appeals in academic writing becomes a strategic one for the student-author and forces them to consider their audience further.

A slight delay…

‘Tis the season for the occasional bout of plague. Sadly, I’ve been sidelined. This weeks updates will be moved to next week as I convalesce.  

Foundations of Rhetoric: Ethos

“Among the rhetorical precepts that found applications in the study and teaching of identity in writing was Aristotle’s notion of ethos, which ‘is concerned with the character of the speaker as portrayed in the speech itself’ (Cherry, 1988, p. 253)” -P.K. Matsuda “Identity in Written Discourse”

The bulk of what I do at NYU Shanghai (上海纽约大学) is to teach writing-related courses—usually, I teach 2-4 such courses every academic year. And, in every course, I introduce my students to the foundations of rhetoric and the appeals of ethos, pathos, and logos. Ethos, pathos, and logos are the three main rhetorical appeals that are used in persuasion.

Ethos – Creating authorial credability

Pathos – Creating emotional connections

Logo – Creating logical links

Students tend to enjoy these lessons because it allows for some fun class activities like watching how marketers use pathos to sway our opinions of brands and products to building an argument based on as many logical fallacies as possible. It’s also easy to have extended conversations about Pathos and Logos. Ethos, however, tends to be neglected, at least in my practice. Part of this may be, because when it comes time to talk about ethos it’s often tied to notions of creating credibility—which often just means using reliable sources and citing them correctly. This means that lessons on ethos tend to fall flat with students. In part, because it gets glanced over about the more fun appeals; and in part, because understanding intertextuality and effective sourcing take time to develop. However, after reading Matsuda’s recent article in the Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, I can’t help but wonder if a slight shift in how we view ethos might lead to a more effective way of teaching about it in the classroom. The result being that we can better help students as they acquire academic literacy and lifetime critical thinking skills.

By using the angle of identity to grapple with and better understand ethos, I believe that we can come to a more effective way of talking about it with our students and thinking about it in our own writing. In the past, this key term was often defined as:

How we build credibility as a writer.

Using the lens of identity, however, ethos’ definition would necessarily change to:

How we use language to craft a projected self to encapsulate our authorial wisdom (phronesis), moral character (arete), and good will (eunoia) to facilitate argument and meaning making with the reader (Cherry; Matsuda).

This definition gives us multiple ways of understanding and thinking about ethos. It instantly shifts the focus to language use and our precise control (agency) over it. By tying it to a projected self (identity), we give student-writers an easy access point, as identity is something at the forefront of students’ minds when they write. Usually, it’s the desire to be identified by their instructors and readers as intelligent, engaged, and wanting high marks (although there are certainly subversive identity positions as well). Focusing on wisdom, character, and good will gives us a tripartite taxonomy to organize lessons and thinking. We can encourage students to consider the knowledge and wisdom (or, knowledge + experience) that they bring to the classroom with them and how they can bolster that by working with the knowledge and wisdom found in primary and secondary sources. Allowing educators to create a space for students to begin to take agency over their learning and to personalize it. The angle of phronesis also allows us to talk to students and show them the different ways that we manipulate language to project wisdom and knowledge in contextually proper ways. For example, I didn’t talk to my mom (non-specialist) about my dissertation in the same what that I spoke about it to my dissertation supervisor (specialist). Granted, I think I managed to put them both to sleep at one point or another. Moral character gives us a chance to fall back on traditional discussions of ethos and how good sources and good citing practices are important. Good will, or eunoia, is the interesting one to me. For Aristotle, eunoia connected to family life and the healthy emotional connections between spouses—kindness and goodwill (Provencal). He viewed these as the foundation for healthy life and society. So, ethos would also involve teaching novice writers to use language and their authorial self in ways that don’t alienate their audiences; in a way that create connections through shared experiences, worldviews, etc. to better facilitate the uptake of their messages.

Source Articles

Cheery, R.D. (1988). Ethos versus persona: Self-representation in written discourse. Written Communication, 5(3), 251-276.

Provencal, V.L. (2001). The family in Aristotle. Animus, 6, 3-31.

Matsuda, P.K. (2015). Identity in written discourse. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 35, 140-159.

A Pragmatist’s Argument for Standard Varieties in English Language Teaching


Welcome to the final entry in this week’s series on linguistic variation in the language classroom. In today’s entry, I’m going to be speaking from the position of a pragmatist that believes that linguistic variation has no place in formalized English language teaching (ELT). To write this piece, I will be playing the devil’s advocate, and I’ll admit that it was a bit of a challenge for me to write—mostly because of my own ideological and theoretical leanings. However, I feel that this is a useful exercise to prevent rampant bias and to help me better understand my own beliefs. Granted, because of my professional leanings, I’ve found it challenging to find supporting articles for this piece. So, this piece will be pure, but simulated, opinion.

The Importance of Standards: Or, the Case Against Embracing Linguistic Variation

The case for adopting global varieties of English in ESL/EFL classrooms has been well recorded (e.g., Canagarajah, 2006;2013). However, there is a strong pragmatic argument for eschewing linguistic variation in our classrooms. Said another way, there’s sufficient reason to believe that we should be working to teach and maintain a particular standard English in ELT.

First, it’s what our stakeholders want. Research suggests that our students have high perceptions of native speaker teachers (NESTs). Murtiana (2011) found that students at an Indonesian university felt that having a NEST would facilitate gains in their own linguistic competency, allowing them to reach a more native-like level of proficiency. From this finding, we can safely assume that part of the perceived appeal of the NEST is the standard variety of English that they are bringing with them. This desire for NESTs from the students is likely reinforced by their parents’ attitudes and perceptions. Anecdotally, many parents feel that if their children can have a NEST during their childhood, it will provide them with a linguistic “leg up” over their peers. And, this parental desire has had an impact on ELT hiring practices for private language schools and afterschool programs. Some of these programs openly advertise that they’re only hiring NESTs. Now, there are reasons why parents have this desire for students to learn a standard variety of English. There are real reasons why older students believe that NESTs are more effective teachers and will lead them to more salient language learning gains. Two of primary reasons relate to standardized assessment and to professional development and opportunities.

Standardized Assessment and the Need for Standard English in ELT

Our students, at one point or another, will face a standardized assessment. It may be a national assessment like China’s gaokao (普通高等学校招生全国统一考试) or the College English Test (大学公共英语考试). Or, they may decide to take TOEFL or IELTS for study abroad applications or for workplace advancement. Any one of these assessments will be testing students in standard English and expect them to produce standard English—the IELTS speaking band and its grading rubric show how high proficiency in standard English may translate to higher scores on this section. If part of our job as language educators is to prepare students for the linguistic demands, they will face in the future, and if those requirements include standardized tests that may penalize use of non-standard varieties, then our duty is to embrace standardized varieties in our classrooms.

Continuing with assessment, but moving away from standardized assessment, our students’ linguistic skills will be assessed by other teachers that they meet and by university administrators. These individuals may not be language professionals, and they may certainly not be open to linguistic variation—to the use non-standard varieties of English. They may not see Singaporean English or China English as legitimate varieties. They may just see a student in need of remediation, a student speaking Singlish and Chinglish. Also, their disciplinary teachers may not have been trained to recognize what is a linguistic error versus what is linguistic creativity driven by being multilingual in different varieties of a language. The strict educator will mark these instances as errors. The liberal one may choose to ignore what may be a genuine error in order to not risk marginalizing the students’ unique variety of English.

Professional Development

My pragmatist’s view of the world also applies to education. Therefore, I believe that education’s primary purpose to prepare our students for their professional lives. And, in this regards, abjuring linguistic variation and embracing standard varieties of English (e.g., Canadian English, Australian English, etc.) just makes sense. Take, for example, the graduate student in applied linguistics. If they are working on their doctoral studies, they will likely be working towards publication in any number of academic journals, because publications are equated with scholarly success. And, even in journals like The International Journal of Applied Linguistics, The Journal of Second Language Writing, TESOL Quarterly, The Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, The Journal of Language and Sexuality, etc., there is explicit instruction to authors that their manuscript should be very well-edited, and that it should adhere to either American or British standards of use.

Likewise, for our professional students, when they enter the workforce they will be judged based on their use of language. In the conference room, non-standard Englishes will likely be marginalized, and their speakers may be encouraged to seek out accent reduction or additional English language training. Likewise, when they engage in professional writing acts, non-standard Englishes will likely be viewed as indicative of linguistic error instead of a novel use of the writer’s entire linguistic repertoire. Managers will come to see these writers as deficient, and this may lead to negative career consequences. Therefore, we must embrace standard varieties in the classroom. While local varieties of English may be useful for communicating with their national/regional peers, it may disadvantage them in the higher education and in the workplace.

Closing Note

Again, this was an exceptionally difficult piece for me to write, because I’m rather set against the view expressed here. Wednesday’s entry is much more in line with my professional orientation to ELT. I actually got a little angry with myself while I wrote this, thinking “Well, this guy is a bit of a tool, isn’t he?” However, this was a very productive activity for me to engage in. When I talk about world Englishes-informed pedagogies and embracing linguistic variation in the classroom, these are some of the arguments against it that I am used to hearing. So, engaging in this exercise, and writing as a serious proponent of standard varieties, was very illuminating for me. I would encourage you, any time you have a firmly held believe try this exercise.

Source Articles

Canagarajah, S. (2006). The place of world Englishes in composition classrooms: Pluralization continued. College Composition and Communication, 57(4), 586-619.

Canagarajah, S. (2013). Translingual Practice: Global Englishes and Cosmopolitan Relations. London: Routledge.

Murtiana, R. (2011, November). Student’s perceptions of native speaker and non-native speaker teachers: Implications for teacher education. Paper presented at the 5th International Seminar on Teacher Education in the Era of World Englishes, Sataya Wacana Christian University, Salatiga, Indonesia.

A Look Ahead: Week of 21 February 2017

The new semester has started up at NYU Shanghai, and I’m not elbows deep in teaching our new first-year composition course, Writing as Inquiry. I’m also working on some scientific writing projects—I’ll try to share some of that labor here, so check back regularly.

All of that to say, L2 writing issues and teaching L2 writers is at the forefront of my mind. So, I’ve decided that for next week, I’ll be talking about the modes of persuasion—ethos, pathos, and logos—and my approach to teaching it in the L2 writing classroom. I’m going to start with talking about ethos with a “From the Archives” entry. Then, I’ll move to logos on Wednesday and pathos on Friday. In each of these, I’ll include some updated research perspective from L2 writing as well as my personal pedagogical approach.