Stylistics, Literature and Linguistics

Style means the language which is used “in a given context, by a given person, for a given purpose” (Leech). It is applied to the writer’s individual characteristic manner of expression. It is applicable to the written and spoken, and literary and non-literary codes.

Mush have I travell’d in the realms of gold
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Appollo held.
(John Keats)

A cursory glance at these lines show that much liberty has been taken here with grammar. Such poetic ‘licences’ are among the ‘especial norms of standard’ for poetry. On the contrary, the general standard form of language would completely fail to produce the slightest poetic effect. There are indeed deviations within deviations; that is, once we accept that literary language flourishes on the principle of deviation from the norm of the standard, and ‘that to deny work of poetry the right to violate the noun of the standard is equivalent to the negation of poetry’ (Jan Mukarovsky).
We shall find it easy enough to recognise other deviations, both internal and external, that establish a writer’s literary identity; how, for instance, Arnold Bennett is distinguished from E.M. Forster or John Galsworthy in spite of several points shared by them; or what makes Virginia Woolf’s style her own as distinct from that of James Joyce.
‘Stylistics’ as we understand it to-day, with its being armed with the techniques of linguistics, which happened over the last three decades or so, seeks not to ‘dissect the flower o of beauty’, as some apparceintors of literature  have come to feel, but develop a full scientific understanding of the style as evidenced in the discourse/text. Recent scholars in the field have been sensitive enough to the problem to discard the rigorous technical approach and devise a sesible middle-of-the-road means, Leo Spitzer describes it in these words,
I would maintain that to formulate observation by means of words is not to cause the artistic beauty evoporate in vain intellectualities; rather it makes for a widening and ‘deepening of the aesthetic taste. It is only a frivolous love that cannot survive intellectual definition; great love prospers with understanding.
‘Linguistic stylistics’ or ‘new stylistics’ as Roger Fowler calls it, thus provides for the first time a firm technical and theoretical base for the study of style. Without a sound theory, basic concepts and categories cannot be established, and without the precise tools of analysis any description would remain weak and unsound, prey to changing winds and whims of opinion. ‘How often,-with all the theoretical experience of method accumulated in use over the years, have I stared blankly, quite similar to one of my beginning students, at a page that would not yield its image’ (Spitzer).
Out of this diversity of linguistic frameworks and systems, one concrete path that emerges is ‘a tendency to explore for pattern and system below the surface form of language; to search for the principles of meaning, and language use which activate and control the code… If a text is regarded in objective simplicity as a sequence of symbols on paper, then the modem linguist’s scrutiny is not just a matter of looking at the text, but of looking through the text to its significance.’
The basic assumption of stylistic approach to language is called the ‘context of situation’ which means that this approach considers language events as not taking place in isolation from Other events; rather they operate within a wide framework of human activity. Any piece of language is, therefore, part of a situation and so has a context, a relationship with that situation’ (Sucncer-Gregory). The second assumption is that stylistics is primarily concerned with written language. Third Stylistics seeks to describe linguistic forms of the text ‘in order to isolate those places in language where there are possibilities of choice which contribute to meaning. Possibility of choices varies at different places in different forms of literature. Stylistics seeks to establish what factors govern the choices.
A significant stylistic category is collocation. According to it, certain items tend to occur close to each other, and share a wide semantic range of associations. Grammar is unable to explain this. For example, the word ‘disaster’ may occur in a particular linguistic environment in such items as ‘tragedy’, ‘tragic’, ‘damages’, ‘loss’, and so on. These are the collocates of the word ‘disaster’. The word ‘disaster’ itself is recognised as nodal item, ‘collateral range’ is established by the collocates, that constitute the list of collocations. So, if we identify ‘industry’ as nodal item then the other words in close range such as factory, workers, management, strikes, etc. would be its collocates. Another nodal item ‘finance’ or ‘economy’ occurring in the same text would be found to share several collocates. The ‘nodal items’ economy/finance and industry form a set, ‘Industry’ and ‘economy’ share part of the collocational range, indicating a collocational overlapping. ‘Identifying collocations, of course, demands large-scale frequency counts, the extensive statistical examination of many sets’.
We have already noted that stylistic analysis of a work involves more than paying attention to the formal aspect of presentation. Stylistics considers other aspects that normally find no direct ‘reflection’, but have to be deduced from the context, the relations obtaining between one character and another, the author-reader relations and the addresser-addressee relations. These situations exert potential influence on the development of discourse, and must, therefore, be properly understood. As Leech–Short says ‘The pragmatic analysis of language can be broadly understood to be the investigation into that aspect of meaning which is derived not from the formal properties of words and constructions, but from the way in which utterances are used how they relate to the context in which they are uttered’.
Interpretation strategies are, therefore, devised to unfold the ‘moms and mechanism of these factors lending significance to the actual written text. J.R. Searle and J.L. Austin developed the concept of Speech Act relating the meaning of utterance to the context. The main assumption is that there are a number of utterances that do not report or ‘constate’ anything, and are not, therefore, ‘true or false’, but rather that the uttering of the sentence is, or is part of, an action’. When some one says, I bet he will come to-day, he is simply betting an action and not making a true or false statement. Statements of this kind are called performative. Performatives are further divided into explicit and implicit. The former contains the expression naming the act ‘I request you to sit down’; the former does not contain such expression as ‘Will you sit down?’ This means that in performative expression, the naming of the action doesnot seem an absolute necessity, ‘The performative verb may be omitted without the loss of the illocutionary force’ (Palmer).
Searle believed that in an utterance lie hidden many acts of various kinds : asking, commanding, promising, requesting, declaring, etc. It is easy enough to locate this when the performative verb is used as in ‘I request you to come here’, or ‘I beg you to get me a pass’. But a sentence like, ‘please slay there’ can be interpreted both as a command and request. In the concept of speech acts we may hope to find answer to much semantic clue that doesnot appear in the actually formalised conversation.
On the one hand thus we can postulate utterances as speech acts by identifying whether they are warnings, requests, boast, etc. But an utterance may simply give a piece of information. If one says ‘‘There is a dog there’, it is difficult to say what kind of speech act is involved. Even perhaps the speaker may have no clear idea of his own intentions. Ile may simply have spotted a dog and said, or have been expressing fear, which could be a veiled form of warning to his friends or just an emphatic warning with the appropriate suprasegmental marker accompanying. Speech act thus makes it necessary that we know to what use the utterance is being put.
Auxiliary modals; can, shall, may, must, etc. do something of the kind. These are used to indicate warnings, promises, requests, etc. She may come tomorrow is an utterance of implicit performative.
F.R. Palmer in his book Semantics has given the example front the games of bridge and cricket. When a bridge player calls Three clubs, No bit] he binds himself to that contract, while in cricket, the umpire’s No ball makes the delivery a ‘no ball’ in the sense that the batsman cannot now be out by being bowled, stumped, caught or l.b.w.
In the following extract from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice the ironic suggestions are obvious, not in words spoken but in the context, in the speech act. Mr. Darcy is busy writing, while the obtrusive Miss Bingley tries all manner of ruse to draw his attention.
1.   ‘How delighted Miss Darcy will be to receive such a letter!’
2.   He made no answer.
3.   ‘You write uncommonly fast’
4.   ‘You are mistaken I write rather slowly’
5.   ‘How many letters you must have occasion to write in the course of a year ! Letters of business, too ! How odious I should think them !’
6.   ‘It is fortunate, then, that they fall to my lot instead of to yours’
7.   ‘Pray tell your sister that I long to see her’.
8.   ‘I have already told her so once, by your desire’.
9.   ‘I am afraid you donot like your pen. Let me mend it for you. I mend pens remarkably well’.
10.  ‘Thank you – but I always mend my own’.
11.  How can you contrive to write so even?’
12.  He was silent
13.  ‘Tell your sister, I am delighted to Lear of her improvement on the harp; and pray let her know that I am quite in raptures with her beautiful little design for a table, and I think it infinitely superior to Miss Grantley’s.
14.  Will you give me leave to defer your raptures till I write again? At present I have not room to do them justice’.
15.  ‘Oh ! it is of no consequence. I shall see her in January. But du you always write such charming long letters to her, Mr. Daley?’
16.  ‘They are generally long; but whether always charming it is not for me to determine !’
The remarkably warm, intrusive manner of Miss Caroline Bingley contrasts with the cool response of Daley. It is not in the words and structure, it is rather in the ‘tone’, in the emotive inflexions, the polite, even, unruffled manner. Jane Austen derived particular delight in portraying; such situations.
If we render the whole dialogue into indirect speech, this interpersonal force will be utterly lost. ‘Caroline said that Miss Darcy will be extremely delighted to receive such a letter to which he made no answer. Caroline then observed that he wrote uncommonly fast. Darcy replied that she was mistaken, he rather wrote slowly.
Caroline then wondered how many letters he must have occasion to write in the course of a year and added that they must include letters of business too. She then added that she thought of them highly odious’, etc.
There is no doubt that the linguistic interchange is faithfully rendered in such a transformational transcript, but a lot of speech act’s meaning is totally lost here, the subtle overtones which the author sets so much store by, is destroyed. We are left with a bunch of related sentences, but we realize that ‘speech act is not necessarily embodied in a sentence’. Speech acts, as units on the pragmatic level of analysis, do not have to correspond to easily, recognisable units of syntactic or textual analysis’.
Presupposition is a crucial aspect of pragmatics. According to some scholars a statement may either be true or false. The sentence, The Queen of Modern India is married can be said to be false, since there is no queen of modern India. In the opinion of another class of thinkers, the hearers identifies the person or thing about which or whom the statement is made. This is called the referring expression. In this sense the speaker presupposes the existence of the person thing. In the above statement the sentence is not false, there is only a ‘presupposition failure’, there is only ‘truth-value gap’. The same is the case with the negative form of this utterance.
Presuppositions thus donot change under ‘negation’, they are constant. Both the positive and negative sentences imply the same logical presupposition. Both the sentences, The Queen of modern India is married and The Queen of modern India is not married, presuppose that there is a queen of modern India. “This is applicable to all types of noun phrase. He wrote/didn’t write to his brother pressuppose that he has a brother.
If we take another sentence like She wasn’t worried about her brother’s dishonesty, it is normal to suppose that her brother was dishonest. It can also be taken to show that her brother was not dishonest, if we extend the sentence in this manner She wasn’t worried about her brother’s dishonesty because he was not dishonest. We may then say that presupposition is not denial but assertion. She wasn’t worried about her brother’s dishonesty simply means that she wasn’t worried.
In The Queen of modern India is married, the segment marked I may be true or false independent of segment 2 (whether she is married or not). But segment 2 can be considered true or false only in the light of segment 1 if it is known who is it that is married. Only when this is established can the truth of the ‘second segment be established,
In interrogative sentences also presuppositions remain constant.
Is the Queen of modern India married ?
Was she worried about her brother’s dishonest) ?
These sentences in question form presuppose that there is a queen of India, she was married. Questions do not. make any assertion. This is true of the negative interrogation as well. Isn’t the Queen of India married ? Wasn’t she worried about her brother’s dishonesty ?
The above examples contain referring expression or what is also known as factive predicates,. These arc grammatical NPs, which refer to the ‘existences’ of what is being mentioned, ‘in either physical or factual sense’.
Verbs can also indicate certain kinds of presupposition. She washed/didn’t wash/the clothes presuppose that the clothes need washing or they were dirty. He killed/didn’t kill the rat presuppose that the rat was alive.
We can thus draw a neat line of distinction between what is asserted and what is presupposed. The question what should be included in presupposition is somewhat slippery, since it leads us to consider all kinds of semantic features associated with collocation or ‘selectional restriction’. So in a sentence He is bachelor we must consider that the word bachelor means ‘unmarried’. ‘He’ is a ‘man’ leads to the connected term ‘male’ and its ‘female’ as a term for ‘woman’. An unmarried ‘woman’ is a ‘spinster’, and so on.
In the preceding section we have seen that the speakers assume the information as indicated in actual expression or assume that the hearer knows it. In actual day-to-day use of language the speakers ‘imply further information that the hearer doesnot know’. The expression may not actually indicate what he implies. It may rain spoken by a woman to her maid-servant may imply the command to her to remove the drying clothes hung on the clothes line. Or someone in the house saying, I didn’t have tea this morning may imply a request to the housewife to get him a cup of tea.
There is a co-operative principle operative here, between the speaker and the hearer. According to this principle, the hearer understands what the speaker means and receives the message. This also controls the direction in which the conversation goes. This principle is formulated by H.P. Grice, who distinguished four categories, each of which contains maxims.
Quantity        1)      The speaker must make his contribution as informative as required.
               2)      He must not make contribution more informative than is required.
Quality          The speaker’s contribution must be true.
               1)      He shouldn’t say what he doesn’t believe.
               2)      He shouldnot say that for which he does rot have information
Relative         His information must be relative.
Manner         He     should        avoid    obscurity, ambiguity, disorderliness.
If somebody asks, – Have you visited the guests and given them my regards ? and the reply given is, ‘I have visited the guests’, the speaker can guess that his regards have been given to them. The reply could also be conveyed by a simple ‘yes’, if this doesnot violate the maxim of quantity. This is also associated with the fall-rise tone, which points to the fact that intonation is crucial in implicatures. In an expression like She is very intelligent, the intonation may give the hearer what the speaker implies, and it must be worked out by the hearer.
It is the occasion that provides the clues to the implicatures. Violation of the maxim is often seen in the maxim of quality; ‘You’re a great friend’; ‘He is the cream of the class. The interpretation depends entirely on what and much of it the hearer understands. Contexts and the common range of beliefs, shared by speaker and hearer, of course, determine the implicatures, but there has also been recognised a conventional implicature which depends on the conventional meaning of the words.
The Muslims are brave and self-sacrificing is an example. This contrasts with the conventional implicature which so far we have been discussing.
Haliday describes metaphor as the general term for those figures of speech that refer to different kinds of verbal transference. But it is also used, ‘in a more specific sense to icier to just one kind in contrast to metonymy; and sometimes a third term is introduced, namely, synecdoche’. Comparison is the central trait of metaphor. In the normal day-to-day communication, metaphorical uses are common it escapes me, I can’t follow, petticoat government, milk of humanism, security beefed up, etc. Mostly, transfer is from concrete to abstract sense, and also from material to mental process. Svnec cloche refers to the part of the thing standing for the whole, and in metonymy, a word is used for ‘something related to that which it usually refers to: He will go on working as long as the breathes.’
They have a hand in it; one twist keep one’s head.
The act of transferring meaning is quite evident in this kind of non literal form of expression. It is the meaning of the word that determines its selection. Halliday feels that there is a strong grammatical element in rhetorical transference. In this sense it is a matter of lexico-grammatical selection rather than simply lexical.
From the point of view of studying literature, it is interesting to note that many metaphorical representations have become norm, living under a roof, protests flooded him, l missed a heartbeat, etc.
‘Metaphorical modes of expression are characteristic of all adult discourse’. It is only in young children’s expressions that we find absence of it. News reporting, speeches, journalistic writings, even official and informal writings are sprinkled with metaphorical expressions.
Metaphorical    :  the fifth day saw them at the summit
Congruent        :  they arrived at the summit on the fifth day
Metaphorical    :  the guest’s supper of icecream was
followed by a gentle swim
Congruent        :  In the evening the guests ate icecream and then swam gently.
‘Much of the history Of every language is a history of demetaphorizing : of expressions which began as metaphor gradually losing their metaphorical character as one can see in these expressions : source of income; barrier to understanding; headache for all; political game; political rise; invite trouble; no-confidence motion; parliament silting;; shadow -fight; hung parliament; firm step.
Metapherical wording, whether in speech or in writing introduces a degree of complexity, the least metaphorical wording will always be the one that is maximally simple : technical language, for example. The complexity of written language is a lexical complexity; written language attains a high lexical density, that is, a greater number of lexical items per clause, and the lexical items have a higher information context, often accompanied by a relatively simple grammatical structure. The complexity of spoken language is a grammatical complexity; spoken language constructs complex dependency structure… often accompanied by a relatively simple choice of words’.
Felicity Conditions
Speech acts have felicity conditions or the conditions of appropriacy. In the extract from Price and Prejudice, we recognise the absurdity of Caroline’s ignorantly pursuing Darcy while the latter goes on politely to make her realize his attempts to ward her off. In words he is polite, unoffending, but the meaning he seek to convey is couched in his paralinguistic behaviour. The overall context of situation lends greater force of meaning to the total speech act. Felicity conditions are of course, determined by other factors of diverse nature, the social position of the interactants, the cultural milieu, their mutual relations, etc. that have bearing on the meaning of the discourse. Very often the readers are required to adjust themselves to the norms and conventions of the projected societies and periods, and recognise the felicity conditions accordingly. Reading a Jane Austen novel demands a different set of felicity conditions from the one required in reading a novel by Charles Dickens or Joseph Conrad. In a single novel of Dickens one comes across more .than one type of social environment. Felicity conditions must therefore, vary within one novel – in Great Expectations, for instance, there is dramatic change from Joe Gargery’s forge to the twilight world of Miss Havisham.
Implicature in Literature
In the above extract from Pride and Prejudice, it becomes easier to the readers to infer ‘extra meanings – meaning more than the words and tonal inflexions imply from his knowledge of what precedes this exchange. This knowledge bridges the gap between ‘the overt sense and pragmatic force’. Let us look once again at these sentences.
“you write uncommonly fast”
“you are mistaken. I write rather slowly”
“How many letters you must have occasion to mite in the course of a year. Letters of business too ! How odious I should mink them !”
“It is fortunate, then, they fall to my lost instead of to yours”
We have by now sufficiently known Daley to get to the sense of his short, curt replies and perceive the faint line of irritation bordering these overtly cool, impersonal sort of replies. The ‘extra-meanings’ thus inferred are what the philosopher H.P. Grice calls implicature. This is a term which refers to a kind of tacit understanding between the reader and the text in one.
Grice says that the ‘tacit understanding’ between the author and the reader is based on the co-operative principle, which makes them agree to some maxims (rules). The statements made must convey the truth and these must be relevant to the conversation.
It is significant that these rules or maxims are often violated in literature. The violation may be ostentatious, or clandestine. The hearer perceives the difference between what the speaker says and what he means. The meaning thus deduced is implicature.
Here is another example from Pride and Prejudice. Sir William says,
‘you excel so much in the dance, Miss Eliza, that it is cruel to deny me the happiness of seeing you; and though this gentleman dislikes the amusements in general, he can have no objection, I am sure, to oblige us for one half-hour.!
‘Mr. Darcy is all politeness’, said Elizabeth, smiling’ (27).
Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s observation is a cruel one, because it is no secret that she thinks exactly the opposite. So this is the violation of the maxim of quality. In H.H. Munro Saki’s celebrated story The Open Window we see the ‘very self-possessed young lady of fifteen’ weaving a web of lies and falsities in which she deftly traps and captures poor Franton Nuttel to the utter joy of herself and amusement of the readers. Once again, (he maxim of quality is broken. Without it there wouldn’t be any story at all. As Short and Leech observe, ‘pragmatic tone is not so much a function of the situation itself objectively considered, as the way participants construe the situation… where characters are at ‘cross-purposes and their models are at valiance. Such variance is the basis of the dramatic juiciest in conversational dialogue’.
Authors often present the character’s thought in the interrupted movement of action as a kind of elaboration or explanatory aside. This kind of ‘suspended action’ has generally the role of taking the story along a new path, introducing a new turn or simply providing added pace to its progress. In chapter 6 of Jane Austen’s Emma there occurs a delightful exchange between Miss Emma and Reverend Elton. The highly amusing situation is born out of Emma’s efforts to push Miss Harriet Smith into Elton’s favour by praising her beauty and manners. Elton’s responses are aimed at making inroad into Emma’s affections. But he does so in words that are oblique and make Emma interprete them as Elton’s shy and half concealed admiration for Harriet.
‘Let me entreat you”, cried Mr. Elton, “it would indeed be a delight ! Let me entreat you, Miss Woodhouse, to exercise so charming a talent in favour of your friend. I know what your drawings are. How could you suppose me ignorant ? Is not this room deli in specimens of your landscapes and flowers; and has not Mrs. Weston some inimitable figure-pieces in her thawing-room at Randall’s 7” Yes, good man ! – thought Emma – but what has all that to do with taking likenesses ? You know nothing of drawing. Don’t pretend to be in raptures, about mine. Keep your raptures for Harriet’s face’ (P:71)
This aside is characteristic articulation of Emma’s avowed purpose of throwing Harriet and Elton together. It is also a reflection of Emma’s predilection for deriving pleasure out of some apparent weakness in the other’s character. A different kind of self-address occurs in chapter 47 of the novel. The events have taken a dramatic and catastrophic turn for her. It is time now for her to look back over the ruins and do some re-evaluation.
‘Harriet, poor Harriet !’ – Those were the words; in them lay the tormenting ideas which Emma could not get rid of, and which constituted the real misery of the business to her. Frank ‘Churchill had behaved very ill by herself – very ill in many ways- but was not so much his behaviour as her own, which made her so angry with him. It was the scrape which he had drawn her into on Harriet’s account that gave the deepest hue to his offence – Poor Harriet ! to be second time the dupe of her misconceptions and flattering. Mr Knightley had spoken prophetically – when he once said, ‘Emma, you have been no friend to Harriet Smith’” , and so on.
Throughout the chapter go on Emma’s turbulent thoughts in this vein. A curious thing about this style is that it has a mixture of self-ruminating monologuic pace and tenor, and the objective manner addressed to the reader. ‘Although there can be by definition no interlocutor when minds are depicted, writers often represent them as if there were. In this way thought becomes a form of suspended action; or even a form of suspended interaction between characters’. This form of description is not just a matter of ‘talking’ to oneself, but a useful means of sorting out the complications that surround a person and clarify the interaction.
Author to Reader
We have just seen that ‘monologuic conversation’ is sometimes addressed to the readers. In the above instance, it is the character who does the loud thinking. Jane Austen very infrequently appears to ‘convey messages’ to the readers. ‘Sometimes an author conveys what he wants to say directly, and sometimes via exchange between characters. In both the cases we can expect conversational implicatures and other inferential strategies to be used’. Continuing with our example from Emma, below is presented an extract containing the general statement indicating author-leader implicature.
‘Seldom, way seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclousrue; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken; but where, as in this case, though the conduct is mistaken, the feelings are not, it may not be very material’.
It is less direct. The reader is ‘thus involved a novel, to draw implicatures both from character speech and authorial commentary’. Jane Austen’s other novel, Pride and Prejudice, begins with a statement of the kind, full of ironic significance.
‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife’
In many novelists, the authorial commentary is easily recognisable which sometimes is embodied in the ‘I-figure’ and sometimes ostentatious voice of the writer who steps in from time to time to cast commentaries. ‘The. dominant style of Tom Jones is a blend of the essayistic and the argumentative, as is set by the introductory chapters to each of the eighteen books of the novel, and they call attention to the controlling hand of the novelist, and to his dependence on the reader’s tolerance’. (Roger Fowler)
George Eliot is another novelist who was fond of intruding into the narrative to interrupt its progess and make general observations. Middlemarch and The Mill on the Floss present examples of this.
The Irrational in Poetry
Earlier in this book, it has been pointed out that poetic language is based on the principle of deviance from the norm of the standard. This is realized in various ways, and on different levels of language structure. Any reader of poetry will become conscious of the unfamiliar and unusual uses of language, be it syntactical construction, phonological arrangement or any other linguistic function. We present below a few examples.
1.   Queen Isabella    :  No, rather will I die a thousand deaths : And yet I love in vain; – he’ll ne’er love me.
(Marlowe’s Edward the second)
2.   Late, as I rang’d the crystal wilds of air,
      In the clear mirror of thy ruling star,
      I saw alas I some dread event impend
(Pope’s Rape of the Lock)
3.   I die, yet depart not,
I am bound, yet soar free;
Thou art and thou art not
And ever shall be
(Robert Buchanan’s The City of Dreams)
If we look at these examples closely we can understand that by the norm of the standard principle to ‘die a thousand deaths’ is an impossibility. This is, therefore, an absurd statement. It is also difficult to understand how can one see anything in the ‘ruling star’ as one does in the mirror. So also with the third example. The contradictions are outrageously obvious, creating confusion, in the mind of the readers, who may find it verging on the nonsense, For an ordinary ‘chronically literal-minded being such uses of language produce only unspeakable gibberish’. One has only to talk to some people not used to reading literary works. Their opinion of poetry reflects to what extent does the poetic language deviate from the norm. Normally, language is used to convey ideas in direct logical manner – often aiming at simplifying things and reducing complexity, as in ‘This new anthology has been compiled with two specific ends in view’.
But what is ordinarily viewed as absurdity, nonsense or ‘gibberish’ is a deliberate linguistic act. Without it poetry and other buns of literary writing cannot exist. This is a licence or sanction which the literary writers enjoy, most of all, the poets. Such deviations have their own rules, processes and patterns. By understanding the different ‘figures of speech’ one can get the basic idea of this ‘logic of the irrational’. A poet’s use of oxymoron, metaphor, paradox, and so on helps him get beyond the merely commonly perceptible reality and express that which eludes expression on the level of everyday logical plane of communication. Certain semantic irregularities are created for the desired poetic effect. Some fundamental processes are, Oxymoron, Tautology, Pleonasm, Periphrasis and Paradox.
We shall now discuss in brief these processes. Pleonasm, tautology and periphrasis refer to redundancy factor, such as when the poet expresses more than he is required to do: That lie is false (tautology); doctor who treats patients (pleonasm), my male parent father (periphrasis).
The other two, oxymoron and paradox refer to contradiction in statement and meaning. We shall begin by discussing the last two.
By bringing together two expressions which have apparent semantic incompatibility, that is, which cannot show mutual semantic congruence, the poet creates oxymoron. John Milton uses in Samson Agonistes the expression ‘to live a life half-dead, a living death’, and in Romeo and Juliet we read ‘Parting is such a sweet sorrow’. In both the examples, the italicised expressions have words that are incompatible. This lends a degree of’ ambiguity which on the surface is puzzling. But a careful reading by placing the, lines in their context would reveal that they are very much compatible. To experience pleasure with pain is common. The mingling of joy with sorrow is on the surface absurd, but particular contexts in life and literature discover for us the perfect truth of the statement, so with Milton’s line. In certain conditions of life – the physically disabled person feels that his life is more merciless than death – it is living hell and also living death.
In paradox also conllnly elements and statements me yoked together to create a strange equation of antonyms. In the opening scene of Macbeth the three witches chant.
Fair is foul, and foul is fair
Hover through the fog and filthy air.
In the commonsense interpretation of these words fair cannot be foul, if it is fair, and foul cannot be fair, if it is really foul. In the context of what follows in the play, this expression has a macabre truth in it, ringing with prophetic echoes. Another example of paradoxical statement is King Duncan’s observation made to Banquo in the same play.
My plenteous joys
Wanton in fulness, Seek to hide themselves
In drops of sorrow (Macbeth I, iv 32-34)
This refers to the expression which needlessly repeats the meaning by way of explaining and elaborating that which occurs either earlier or later. For example, when someone says, ‘the doctor who treats the patients’, it is not difficult to recognise that the segment ‘who treats patients’ is redundant, because the word ‘doctor’ contains that meaning. Often such explanatory clauses are considered faults of style. But in literature this serves other ends.
Clown :      if he mends, he is no longer dishonest;
if he cannot, let the botcher mend him,
Anything that’s mended is best patched;
(Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night)
The clown is explicatory, anything that’s mended is but patched is but pleonasm seeking to explain that which is already contained in the word. In Christina Georgina Rossetti’s (1830-1894) poem ‘When I am Dead, My Dearest’, we see two stanzas, the beginning being ‘when, I am dead, my dearest/sing no sad songs for me’. The poetess goes on to tell the dear one what he/she must do. But in the second stanza the poetess pleonasmically narrates what she herself shall miss,
I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain,
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain.
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor sit
In the common communicative framework the explanation that she shall not feel the rain nor see the shadows is redundant once ‘when I am Dead, My Dearest’ is said. But Christina Rossetti is reputed for evoking pathos of lonely and sorrowful conditions of life. She aims at building an atmosphere and a response in the readers which are vivid and distinct. Pleonasm has, therefore, a marked role here, apt and reinforcing her opening line.
Tautology is also an expression which seeks to explain that which is already presented in a word or phrase. As Geoffrey Leech says, ‘Tautologies tell us nothing about the world, but may well tell us something about the language’. Shakespeare’s play Hamlet presents some of the most striking examples. In Act I Scene V Hamlet and Horatio exchange these observations.
Ham.          The air bites shrewdly; it is very cold.
Hor.           It is a nipping and an eager air.
What Horatio says is only a kind of echo of Hamlet’s remarks.
In Thomas Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Opera these lines occur.
Eyre.          Leave whining, leave whining !
Away with this whimpering, this puling,
these blubbering tears, and these wet eyes !
After blubbering tears, wet eyes do not convey any new information. In drama, however, ‘tautology can be an indirect means of conveying information about character and state of mind’.
This involves saying more than is expected. In ordinary communicative situation this is considered violation of the principle of economy. However, it is a commonly employed mode in poetry, especially lengthy poems, where the poet needs to refer to the same thing in different ways. Often metrical convenience dictates its use as Shakespeare uses ‘this golden rigot.’ for ‘crow’ and ‘the round and top of sovereignty’. Such uses also avoid monotony, and introduces variations. By employing round-about descriptive expressions the poet can also emphasize first one facet then another of the same thing.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight ? or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain ?
(Macbeth Act 2 Scene 1)
The terrible ranting of Macbeth goes on in this rambling manner just before King Duncan is murdered. It has many examples of periphrasis which Shakespeare illuminatingly uses to reveal Macbeth’s character. And then a little later Macbeth, unsettled and unhinged by the deed, tells Lady Macbeth in Scene 2 of Act 2,
Macb. Methought I heard a voice cry
1.   Sleep no more :
Macbeth does murder sleep – the innocent sleep,
2.   Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care,
3.   The death of each day’s life,
4.   sore labour’s bath
5.   Balm of hurt minds,
6.   great nature’s second course
7.   Chief nourisher in life’s feast.
Macbeth has killed sleep by murdering the unguarded Duncan who looked like a sleeping babe in his deep slumber. But it is not merely the destruction of sleep and the sleeping king that has been carried out. By plunging dagger in Duncan’s breast,
Glamis bath murdered sleep; and
therefore Cawdor
Shall sleep no more – Macbeth shall
sleep no more
In this way he has also destroyed the innocence of sleep and all that sleep signifies to him. These attributes are given numbers in the above passage to indicate what it signified to him. It is a great profound self-revealing out-cry of a man who was ‘too full of the milk of humanity’ and who had earlier understood,
If chance will have me King, why, chance
may crown me, without my stir.
Periphrasis is thus, in this instance, a very powerful means of producing poetic effect. In the context of this tragic development, this extract is crucial in revealing an important aspect of Macbeth’s character, his essential goodness. Sleep with its poetically enumerated attributes leaves the reader more enlightened as to its significance and Macbeth’s character.
In the eighteenth century poetry one sees a close connection between periphrasis and the dignity of expression. Something of this is perceptible in Macbeth also. Talking of the 18th century linguistic practices, we turn to William Collins (1721-59) whose The Passions An ode for Music contains these lines.
O Music ! Sphere-descended maid,
Friend of Pleasure, Wisdom’s aid !
Why, goddess, why, to us denied,
Lay’st thou thy ancient lyre aside ?
The poet emphasises those aspects of music that matter to him, creating a series of periphrastic utterances. In a similar vein Thomas Gray writes,
Awake, Aeolian lyre awake…
O Sovereign of the willing soul,
Parent of sweet and solemn – breathing airs
Enchanting shell
(The Progress of Poesy)
Periphrasis thus provides a means of building the appropriate poetic tone and evoking various facets of the dominant idea, emotion or theme. They give a heightened imaginative appreciation of the object described.
Ambiguity and Indeterminacy
A major strength of poetic writings is its ability to offer itself to multiple interpretations. The ‘meaning’ of a poem is, therefore, not its ‘cognitive meaning’, or to put it differently, ‘logical denotative meaning’. This is the kind of meaning given by dictionaries. In a poem this kind of meaning constitutes only a part of its total meaning. In order to distinguish the two types of meaning, the word significance is used for the latter, the total meaning of a poem. In ordinary communication, in day-to-day life both the types of meaning are used. For strictly scientific or other academic purposes, ‘cognitive meaning’ is sought to be communicated. When Wordsworth writes,
The Being, that is in the clouds and air,
That is in the green leaves among the groves,
Maintains a deep and reverential care
For the unoffending creatures whom he loves
What his use of the words ‘clouds’ and ‘air’ signify includes the cognitive meaning weathermen attach to them. ‘It would be quite absurd to insist that cognitive meaning counts for nothing in poetry’. There is, however, always an additional semantic value to be derived from the poetic use of a word.
Thou on whose stream, mid the steep sky’s commotion
Loose clouds like earth’s decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,
Angels of rain and lightning;
(Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind)
In Shelley’s use of the word ‘clouds’ it would be absurd to confine our attention to mere cognitive meaning; the word assumes greater strength of expression by its association with other words. In association with other words it forms an inclusive field of significance which lends it especial meaning. The assertion by a class of critics and waders that a poem cannot be paraphrased, that, as Wordsworth says
Sweet is the love which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things;
We murder to dissect
(The Tables Mined)
derives partly from this complex semantic associative whole. This means; that on the cognitive level one may present a kind of surface interpretation, but apart from this also there remains a lot to be presented. The possibility or possibilities of further interpretation to the manner in which the poet uses language. It is a language which has the many-valued character, a language possessing multiple significance, offering possibility of multiple interpretation. This comes about by the author’s use of forms of deviation from linguistic norms. This has already been discussed earlier. Shakespeare’s
put a tongue
In every wound of Caesar, that should move
The stones of Rome to rise and mutiny
(Julius Caesar III, ii)
defies literal paraphrasing of words. Such an attempt would not only result in nonsensical interpretation, it would also mar the force of expression, the powerful articulation of emotion that this deviant use of language achieves. It is common practice among prose writers also to resort to deviations, as the poets do. Prose writers do this in order to achieve force of expression and semantic density.
Lexical Polysemy
Similarly with polysemic words
lie :      i.    ‘to lie down’
            ii.   as in ‘tell lies’
Both the meanings of the word are effectively used in these lines from Richard II.
Surrey : Dishonourable boy !
That lie shall lie in my sword,
Grammatical Polysemy
It is evident in the following example,
Present Tense
A.   She cooks without help
a.      event occurring now
b.      regularly repeated event
B.   He is going home
   a.      event occurring now
   b.      event to take place in near future
These sentences written or spoken in isolation would lead to ambiguity, both the meanings being available. In poetry ‘ambiguities are frequently brought to the readers’ attention, and the simultaneous awareness of mote than one interpretation is used for artistic effect. One reason why we recognise and tolerate more ambiguity in poetry is that we are iii any case attuned to the acceptance of deviant usages and interpretations’.
Ambiguities also arise from homophones and homographs. In the first, words are pronounced alike but are written differently.
bore – boar; see – sea; cell – sell; die – dye; etc. in the latter, the words are written alike but pronounced differently.
row – row; lead – leed; read – read; bear (vb) – bear (n).
When a writer uses pun what lie does is to foreground the homonymous or polysemous character of a word and allows more than one meaning to function in full measure in order to create dramatic situation.
Maria               :  Now, Sir, thought is free, I pray you, tiring your hand to th’ butt’ry – bar and let it drink.
Sir Andrew       :  Wherefore, sweet heart ? What’s your metaphor ?
Maria               :  It’s dry, Sir.
Sir Andrew       :  Why, I think so. I am not such an ass but
I can keel) my hand dry.
But what’s your jest ?
Maria               :  A dry jest, sir.
Sir Andrew       :  Are you full of them ?
(Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night I. 3)
The word dry in the above example has been used as pun, ‘hand dry’ meaning in literal sense of ‘not wet’, and ‘dry jest’ meaning barren jest.
Homonymic pun is considered less serious than the polysemic one, as it is believed that the author benefits from the sheer accident of language. Pun is thus a form of word-play. Below we discuss some prominent types of pun.
In the example from Twelfth Night we observe the word twice repeated, each occurrence projecting its different meanings. This has been quite popular with Elizabethan writers. In an cat her example from Richard II the word lie has been repeated. This is more common than a single occurrence of the word. In T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland we read this passage in the section entitled ‘The Fire Sermon’.
When lovely woman stoops to folly and
Paces about her room again, alone,
She smooths her hair with automatic hand,
And puts a record on the gramophone
The highly mechanical word ‘automatic’ has been yoked with the hand of the ‘lovely woman’, evoking the idea of dry, mechanical life of the metropolis. This single word reminds us in this passage of all the fast, impersonal, almost de-huillanized life in large cities consisting of mechanical routine of humdrum activities. As Arthur Pollard says,
‘The pun is a form of innuendo, but its two in-congruous meanings are usually more readily, even obviously recognisable than those of innuendo proper. The latter depends, in fact, for its effect on the slight delay in realising that a second meaning underlies the first and more obvious meaning’.
To happy converts, bosom’d deep in vines when slumber Abbots, purple on their wines
(Alexander Pope’s The Dunciad IV, 301-2)
The last phrase in the above quotation is not simply descriptive but also critical. In another of Pope’s fine book The Rape of the Lock occur these lines
A.   Oh hadst thou, Cruel ! been content to seize Hairs less in sight, or any Hairs but these !
(IV, 175-6)
B.   On her white Breast a sparkling cross she wore; which Jews might kiss, and infidels adore
(II, 7-8)
In the first example (A) Belinda appears to have reached the climax of her distress. But the ambiguity of ‘Hairs less in sight’ raises a curious dilemma, what other hairs ? The reference is sexual and creates a new dimension of Belinda’s reputation. In example B what does the word ‘which’ refer to, ‘cross’ or ‘breast’? A typical ambiguity is created in that if the cross is kissed then, it is quite near the breast. Again the word ‘might’ would mean would desire to, and/or would be allowed to.
Pun on Antonyms
When two words with opposite meanings or connotations are use together multiple meanings arise, as by this association they intensify their antonymous sense.
therefore pardon me
And not compute this yielding to light love,
which the dark night bath so discovered.
(Romeo and Juliet)
This is a type of pun which consists of a compound structure. In it a deliberately contrived superficial structure of identical nature is brought together.
Here thou, great Anna ! whom their reals obey,
Dost sometimes counsel take – and some time tea
(Rape of the Lock)
The two similarly constructed clauses clearly denote different things. Syllopsis here creates irony by bringing together two activities of different nature one abstract, the other concrete !
Jingle as Pun
Ironic or comic effect is created by using two homonymous words
A young man married is a man that’s marred
(All is Well that Ends Well)
This of course flourishes on the musical quality of words whose sounds create not only chiming effect; but also disparate meanings.
what thou wouldst highly
That wouldst thou holily
‘Punning’ is a very popular mode of expression with the writers. It gives them the kind of expression power which is remarkably economical and pleasant. Many writers earned permanent fable by displaying especial punning skill and talent, particularly the eighteenth century poets, whose satirical works especially required this device, for it gives two meanings for the price of one, and so adds to the poem’s density and richness of significance. Pun reduces possibility of discovering incongruity between two unconnected words.
A poem is always open to multiple interpretations. It has many-valued aspects, there is no definite number of possibilities to choose, from. As, William Empson says, ‘what often happens when a piece of writing is felt to offer hidden riches is that one phrase after another lights up and appears as the’ heart of it; one part after another catches fire, so that you walk about with the thing for several days’. A linguist studies what possibilities of choice exist. Indeterminacy is one of the prominent aspects of poetry, apart from that of multiple significance. There are various factors responsible for it. We look at them below.
1. Deviation
We have already studied the different forms of poetic deviations arising out of the poet’s use of language in a special manner. We must pay particular attention to the irregularities in poetry and semantic absurdities.
2. Register and dialect
‘My nerves are bad to-night, yes, bad stay with me.
Speak to me.
Why do you never speak. Speak.
What are you thinking of ? What thinking ?
What ?
I never know what you thinking. Think.
I think we are in rat’s alley
Where the men lost their bones
The Waste Land II
T.S. Eliot here uses the tone of discourse that arises out of the situation. A poet makes use of dialect or register (defined elsewhere) to suit these contextual requirements. Milton’s linguistic style is classical and perceptibly latinate. Wordsworth’s style, on the other hand, avoids these pompous features, for he believes in the language of man speaking to men. Robert Burns has chosen to write his work outside the standard dialect. What we see in ‘ES. Eliot example is not the use of dialect, but a prosaic hurried speech often dropping in colloquial tenor. In some poems one may find strange complexes of these varieties. In the words of Leech, ‘These Engishes are difficult to describe precisely, because they shade into, one another and have internal variations which could, if wished, lead to interminable sub-classification. For instance, we could not, on any reasonable principle, draw a strict line between the English of journalism, and the English of belles lettres or of general educational writing, or to take another example. between formal and colloquial English, for there are innumerable degrees of formality and informality in language’.
3. The ground and tenor of metaphor
Metaphor is vital to poetic expression. If we look at the following line
‘Life’s chilled boughs emptied by death’s autumn-blast’
the whole range of what ‘life’ signifies has been compressed into one metaphor ‘boughs’ that are ‘chilled’. And the cruel deal of death has been viewed as ‘autumn-blast’. This ‘definition’ of life and death are not what is given in the dictionary. On the literal plain, life is not boughs and death has no autumn blast. The ‘definition’ must, therefore, be taken in the linguistic sense. ‘Life is like a bough’, ‘Life is as if it were a bough’, and so on, must be the figurative description. ‘Life’ is the tenor of this metaphor and its purported definition ‘a bough’ its vehicle. To make another example from Thomas Campion’s poem Cherry-ripe.
There is a garden in her face
1.   Where roses and lilies blow;
A heavenly paradise is that place
2.   Where in all pleasant fruits do grow;
Her face is the tenor here, but the following descriptions cannot be taken in the literal sense. The incongriuty of seeing face as the garden with the roses and lilies blowing is too violent to sustain such comparing. The vehicle (1) represents one definition of her face and (2) represents a further extension in terms of seeing it as heavenly paradise. It is important to understand that the ‘literal meaning is always basic and the figurative’ meaning derived. Metaphoric transference establishes link between tenor and vehicle. This leads us to the ground of the comparison. Metaphor implies the form A is like B in respect of C’. So her face is like garden in respect of the freshness and colour represented by roses and lilies.
Let us look at another example
An aged man is but a paltry thing
A tattered coat upon a stick
(W. B. Yeats Sailing to Byzantium)
Vividness of comparison emphasizes certain qualities of the tattered coat upon a stick to the aged man whose paltriness is already mentioned. The time-worn and battered life, and the insignificance of being hung on a stick all loose and helpless have been chosen by the poet to define the ‘aged man’. These attributes into which the metaphorical comparison has been resolved form tile ground of the metaphor.
Distinction between metaphor and simile is well-known to the students of literature. In simile the comparisons are ‘Spelt out in succession and made explicit through the constructional particles such as like, like as, as…as, as, etc.
She walks like beauty in the night
In cloudless climes and starry skies
(Lord Byron)
The above lines show the fine use of simile which compares her with the beauty of cloudless climes and star-spangled skies.
Implications of Context
The immediate context presented by a poem helps us in interpreting the text to some extent. But more useful details can be furnished from other sources. For example, in reading A. E. Houseman’s A Shopshire Lad it would be useful to know what actually happened during Boer’s war.
Poetic’ language teems with connotations, some of which Pro interpretable within the contex of the poem. The range stretches beyond this context, however. Context often gives prominence to certain attitudes and suppresses others.
A.   I saw her upon near view,
A spirit, yet a woman too !
Her household motions light and free,
And steps of virgin-liberty;
(Wordsworth’s She was a phantom of delight)
B.   In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old sunday evenings at home
(D.H. Lawrence’s Piano)
What exactly does William Wordsworth mean by the compound word Virgin-liberty is a matter of inderminate semantic significance. So with Lawrence’s phrase insidious mastery of song. As G.N. Leech observes, personal attitudes will always vary. This is the area of subjective interpretation par excellence : a person’s reaction to a word, emotion, or otherwise depends to a great extent on that person’s individual experience of the thing or quality referred to.
Ellipsis emphasises reliance on contextual factors as providing and completing meaning. The hearer/reader derives and completes the intended meaning from the context which may be a single sentence or a larger composition where the context is built by more than one sentence. Omission from sentences of required elements capable of being understood in the context of their use is called ellipsis. ‘Ellipsis creates acceptable, but nonetheless grammatically incomplete sentences’. (Noel Burton-Roberts : 101).
Why didn’t you bring a spade ?
I hadn’t got any.
The hearer presupposes here what is Jett out by discovering the semantic relation between what is left out and what is referred to. This is a lexico­grammatical relationship which leads to semantic relationship. Ellipsis mostly creates anaphoric cohesion.
Ellipsis works in three different contexts :
i) the clause, ii) the verbal group, and iii) nominal group
i)    In question-answer dialogues ellipsis of clause is often seen.
a. Have you taken your meal ?
    yes (I have taken my meal)
b. Was that fine ?
     No (that was not fine)
In many such situations substitution is also used as potential referent.
He may report to duty today.
Perhaps not
In the above sentence, substitute perhaps not is used for ‘he may not report to duty today’. Other such expressions are he said so, l think so, let us say so, if so, etc.
In the following example a positive clause is simply presupposed by ellipsis.
Would you like to see a little of it ?
– Very much indeed (I should very much indeed like    to see a little of it).
In a wh- ellipsis the whole clause may be omitted.
I think you must get the premission of the V.C. first.
– Why ? (must I get the permission of the V.C. first).
ii)   A verbal group, comprising finite plus predicator may show ellipsis in any of these or the whole.
a. I couldn’t bear [to be questioned like that]
b. Can you dance ?
           – yes. I can (dance).
iii)  Within the nominal group ellipsis is common and its role is one of contracting the structure by reducing redundancies and thereby creating greater cohesion in the discourse.
a. He came here last week, (he) visited us only yesterday.
b.   She takes tea, but I don’t take any.
In (b) the ellipted item is replaced by a substitute any. ‘Ellipsis-substitution is a relationship at the lexicogranimatical level: one of ‘go back and retrieve the missing words’. Hence the missing words must be grammatically appropriate; and they can be inserted in place’.
Conjunctions link phrases or clauses together. They have different kinds of function and refer to different situational factors such as causation, elaboration, exemplification, clarification, extension, enhancement. Conjunctions create linkages between subjects, verb phrases, compliments, adverbials, prepositional complements. From simple single words this device can relate to larger structure like clauses and sentences.
The cohesion thus achieved is called by the name of conjunction. ‘A range of possible meanings within the domains of elaboration, extension and enhancement is expressed by the choice of a conjunction, adjunct … or of one of a small set of conjunction …, in thematic position at the beginning of the clause’.
Below we present in brief various categories and sub-categories to which different conjunctions belong.
i.    Elaboration. Elaborative relation is achieved by this type of conjunctions. This category has two sub-categories a) apposition, b) exposition. In both, following conjunctions are used – that is, in other words, for example, for instance, thus, to put it another way. Thus the function of these conjunctions is to re-present or re-state.
ii.   Clarification. In this category of conjunctions their role is that of summarizing, making precise or in some other way clarifying. This is achieved by these. devices : to be precise, rather, at least (corrective); incidentally, by the way (dish active); anyway, in any case, in particular, in short, briefly, to sum up, actually, in fact, as a matter of fact.
iii.  Extension: This includes both addition and variation. In addition is included and (positive), nor (negative), but (adversative). ‘The class of variation has other smaller classes. These are : replacive, expressed by instead of, on the contrary; substractive by apart from that, except for, except for that, etc.
iv.                 Enlargement : We can create cohesion by using conjunctions such as here, there, anywhere else, nearby, behind, then, hitherto, previously, in the end, finally. Causation and condition are indicated by hence, because, for, because of, on account of, for that reason, then so; and otherwise, or, if not, then, in that case, under the circumstances, in that event, nevertheless, though, in spite of, however, etc.

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