Language and Literary Structure: The Linguistic Analysis of Form in Verse and Narrative

Language and Literary Structure: The Linguistic Analysis of Form in Verse and Narrative

Language and Literary Structure: The Linguistic Analysis of Form in Verse and Narrative

Language and Literary Structure: The Linguistic Analysis of Form in Verse and Narrative

Synopsis

This theoretical study of linguistic structure in literature focuses on verse and narrative from a linguistic perspective. Nigel Fabb provides a simple and realistic linguistic explanation of poetic form in English from 1500-1900, drawing on the English and American verse and oral narrative tradition, as well as contemporary criticism. He offers a new linguistic approach to how metre and rhythm work in poetry, based on pragmatic theory. He provides a pragmatic explanation of formal ambiguity and indeterminacy and their aesthetic effects.

Excerpt

A text has literary form if certain statements are true of the text. Consider, for example, the following statements about a text:

It is a sonnet. It is divided into lines. The lines are grouped by rhyme into a group of eight lines and a group of six lines. It is in iambic pentameter.

These statements are all true of the following text:

Say over again, and yet once over again, That thou dost love me. Though the word repeated Should seem 'a cuckoo-song', as thou dost treat it. Remember, never to the hill or plain, Valley and wood, without her cuckoo-strain Comes the fresh Spring in all her green completed. Belovèd, I, amid the darkness greeted By a doubtful spirit-voice in that doubt's pain Cry, 'Speak once more—thou lovest!' Who can fear Too many stars, though each in heaven shall roll, Too many flowers, though each shall crown the year? Say thou dost love me, love me, love me—toll The silver iterance!—only minding, Dear, To love me also in silence with thy soul.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnets from the Portuguese, XXI, 1847–50 (Browning 1889:IV, 55)

In this book I ask what it means for these statements to be true of this text. More generally, how does literary form hold of a text? I will propose two different but compatible answers, which distinguish the variable from the invariant aspects of literary form. Both answers come from linguistics but from two different kinds of linguistics: generative metrics will explain the invariant aspects of form and linguistic pragmatics will explain the variable aspects of form.

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