Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Rhetorical Triangle

I have a professor from my past existence as a student who laughs every time this subject comes up because the 'rhetorical triangle,' or the 'communication triangle,' as it's known if you majored in communication rather than rhetoric, refuses to die. I think that's true partially because it's so simple, and the concept is so basic and easy to explain. The problem is that it elides, or ignores, complexity. Also, the terms that define it change to suit the user, and although technically there's nothing wrong with that, in fact, it just proves how meaningless it is to use it as any kind of 'standard' to go from.

However, it is a useful little device, and here's why. In Rhetorical studies, the triangle is made up of three points: Logos, Pathos, and Ethos. If you're teaching Communication, though, the triangle has been altered to reflect the needs of the communicator: Speaker, Message, and Audience. Now, if you need to know where the idea for the triangle came from, take a look at Aristotle's Rhetoric, and you will discover that he made use of the three principles of logos, pathos, and ethos to determine how a speaker should best approach the construction and structure of a speech. Modern rhetoricians have 'borrowed' this idea, and the rhetorical triangle was born.

When you construct a speech, you will want to keep logos, pathos and ethos in mind. These are actually three very important principles that will help you determine how to structure your speech, and how to present yourself to your audience. Here is a link to a site that shows what the triangle looks like (you will have to copy and paste it into your browser):

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