Carnegie Mellon University

Talk Like a Marine: A qualitative and quantitative analysis of the link
between USMC vernacular epideictic and public deliberative speech

Author: William Marcellino

Degree: Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Carnegie Mellon University, 2013

This project examines how U.S. Marines argue for their hierarchy of values through epideictic, and how this hierarchy of values informs civil/military public policy arguments. It contributes to rhetorical studies by expanding the notion of epideictic to include vernacular argument in ordinary discourse. The project also contributes to civil/military studies by showing how deliberative arguments between the U.S. military and civilian publics can be improved by better accounting for discursive differences between the U.S. military and civilian publics.  Furthermore, empirical, naturalistic research on the speech practices of U.S. Marines show they are linguistically innovative and have agency, adding richness to prior research that has focused on structure and constraints on speech. Finally, this project is also meant to add increased precision in understanding and possibly remedying problems in the U.S. military.

This is a mixed method project combining quantitative computational analysis with qualitative ethnography and discourse analysis.  The qualitative part was five months embedded with a Marine Corps unit: living, eating and training with them as part of an ethnography describing their linguistic and cultural practices.  Prior to this I conducted a quantitative analysis of public speech from Marine general offices, using computational corpus analysis to describe how they present themselves linguistically in public argument.  My analysis showed linguistic patterns that were distinctive when compared to general English, and consistent regardless of audience.  To better understand why Marine general officers speak in such a consistent way, even when it may be situationally inappropriate, I went to The Basic School for Marine officers to document, describe, and understand their initial linguistic socialization.

The resulting insights into how and why Marines identified, circulated and practiced their values, centering on comradeship, explain why Marines learn to talk in particular ways that serves their need for cohesion and coordination: language that is future oriented, inclusive, positive (in values) and certain.  Marines seek to increase their aggregate safety by learning to talk and act in collaborative ways that place the good of the group over the individual, which in turn informs their later speech in military/civil deliberations.