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Malala Yousafzai as a Speaker: An Analysis of Pathos, Logos, and Ethos


About Malala Yousefzai


Malala Yousafzai (25) is known for human rights advocacy, especially the education of women and children in her native homeland, she has become Pakistan's most prominent citizen. Awarded when she was 17, she is the world's youngest Nobel Prize laureate, and the second Pakistani, and the first Pashtun to receive a Nobel prize.


Malala Yousefzai's Speech

She wrote a speech a transcript of which can be found here. Below is a short analysis of this speech and the tactics used to make it so compelling. We will also provide the video for your reference.

The speech occurs after Yousafzai, and two other girls were shot by a Taliban gunman in an assassination attempt in retaliation for her activism; the gunman fled the scene. Yousafzai was hit in the head with a bullet and remained unconscious and in critical condition


An Analysis of Malala Yusefzai's Speech

I’m sure most people have heard of the Ethos Logos and Pathos of an argument, but Yousafzai really hammers those key points in the speech. In this section, I will break down how she makes great use of each and explain why it is so effective in speech


The Ethos

The most difficult challenge any speaker faces is to establish their ethos, their credibility. For this speech, the audience already has some notion of her Ethos, she is a renowned activist but in order to really support her claim she wears the shawl of a previous Pakistani Prime Minister, someone who was also responsible for women's rights activism. She makes use of this by saying:

“….it is an honor for me that today I am wearing a shawl of the late Benazir Bhutto.”

This allows her to connect immediately with her message and build upon her own authority based on the information and respect of previous activists. Malala Yousufzai shares similarities with Benazir Bhutto having also been attacked and assassinated by religious terrorists. She continues this trend by repeatedly invoking characters that have influenced her including but not limited to Mother Teresa, Gandhi, religious figures, and Martin Luther King Jr..


She also invokes sympathy and credibility by the frame of her argument. She begins the speech with a precession of thank you’s:

“Thank you to all of them. Thank you to the children whose innocent words encouraged me. Thank you to my elders whose prayers strengthened me. I would like to thank my nurses, doctors and the staff of the hospitals in Pakistan and the UK and the UAE government who have helped me to get better and recover my strength”

Giving thank yous is always a good tact to garner goodwill since it shows appreciation and conveys gratitude. Her thank yous also reach the larger audience and really detach her speech from her own desires and instead molds it into a defense for others. \


The Logos

Logos is the logic of a speech; it’s an argument. Often the most lengthy and compact so I will try to hit the most valuable points in her speech.


To begin we must identify what it is she wants, which is easy to find. She repeats she wants “the right to be educated”, particularly for children and young girls. Her speech does two things, it implores nations with the capacity for change to help. While also invalidating terrorists and their ideological standing. She says

“They think that God is a tiny, little conservative being who would point guns at people’s heads just for going to school. These terrorists are misusing the name of Islam for their own personal benefit”.

Obviously, the quote is a slight, threatening both the religious validity and motive of the extremists. She also later insults terrorists by say this:

“The wise saying, ‘The pen is mightier than the sword’. It is true. The extremists are afraid of pens and books. The power of education frightens them.”

Here, the well-known commonplace “The pen is mightier than the sword” is used to move the argument to its next stage: Extremists are afraid of education. The technique used combines a widely accepted commonplace or maxim that adds weight to an argument built upon it.

The anecdote also hints that the illiterate are more likely to become Taliban. For Yousafzai the true weapon against the terrorist, the way to win the war against the future Talib is to teach the children to read.


The Pathos

Finally, pathos is the hardest augmentative tool to use properly, especially when analyzing a transcript. However, a good way to evoke sympathy or empathy is to align someone with your argument.

Yousafzai does this by addressing the room as “Dear sisters and brothers” and the terrorists and extremists as they or them. Uniting the room and those listening as one body and goal with a clear opposition force. Framing the issue of education as one of peace and war with the lines already drawn. For her, the goal is “to protect children from brutality and harm”. Finally, when calling for change she uses almost exclusive “we” language. Once again drawing that distinction of sides but also as a tool to encourage those who are fighting for their rights and to galvanize those still on the fence.

Malala Yousefzai as a Speaker: Conclusion

Most have heard of Malala Yousafzai, but now understanding how and why she says what she does hopefully illuminates the core of her arguments and the validity of her statements. Her strategies of using audience-inclusive language, moral framing of actions, and shows of gratitude are all effective ways to become more compelling as a speaker. Using the information I've presented, I hope that you can apply this in your own speaking ventures and become the best public speaker you can be!

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