Janna Svendsen

Janna Svendsen

  • Södertörn University College and Uppsala University
  • Department of Rhetoric
Participant in 2007

Phd Projects


The ethos of a nation. Rhetorical constructions of national identity in Estonias communication with the Western world

By looking at the representation of Estonia in public speeches, and by analysing in what way the speakers’ position their country in a changing Europe, my study can raise new questions about construction, presentation and reception of national identity. Ethos and identity are not to be seen as equal, instead the use of ethos as a rhetorical evidential force can add to the concept of identity. From the Aristotelian point of view, ethos is the speaker’s character established through speech. Ethos is the trustworthiness that a speaker is supposed to awake in the audience and this makes it rhetorical evidence that can be analysed. In what way is the Estonian ethos being constructed in speeches given by the Estonian president, politicians and academics on different occasions? How do they explicitly or implicitly talk about neighbouring countries and the relations with them? In what way do they use history? How are metaphors, tropes and figures used? What is taken for granted that the audience knows and what can this tell us about the doxa? These questions tell us something about how the speakers contextualise themselves and Estonia in different situations. The rhetorical situations differ, as do the subjects of the speeches and the communicative goals of the persons giving them. Audiences and the speakers’ institutional roles, with the possibilities and constrains they include, also differ in these contexts. This leaves us with the question of what they have in common. They are all – up to some extent – representing Estonia and this is mediated through public speeches. Even if the main purpose of the communicative situation seems to be to welcome a royal guest or give a polite speech at an official visit, there is always an underlying agenda of representation, of adding information to the image the participants have of Estonia and its population. This might not be the speakers’ plan, but the person giving the speech will still participate in constructing or reconstructing the nations’ ethos. By combining classical rhetorical theory with more modern approaches, like critical discourse analysis, and theories of politeness, it is possible to study how Estonia is presented in different communicative situations. This project includes the analyses of the historical and cultural context, rhetorical situations, texts, participants and the media where the speeches are presented and commented upon. I will collect my data from newspapers in Finland and in the US.

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