Academic journal article Hebrew Studies Journal

Sentence Length in Two Novellas by Judith Katzir

Academic journal article Hebrew Studies Journal

Sentence Length in Two Novellas by Judith Katzir

Article excerpt

This study deals with the special structure of two novellas by Judith Katzir, "Light-houses inland" and "And the clouds are floating, floating." Although both were written and published in 1998, a key syntactic feature of each sentence length is quite distinct. While in the first one the sentences are notably long, in the second one they are remarkably short. Usually interpreted as a subconscious clement of an author's style, this article contends that in these two works by Katzir, sentence length is employed as a conscious tool. The author chooses the language rhythm according to the rhythm of the events.

One goal of short sentences is to introduce quick consecutive actions, creating a "staccato" rhythm. In contrast, long sentences are used to describe the hero's meandering thoughts, skipping from present activities to past events. Another reason for this peculiar difference is the adoption of syntax as a device characterizing the hero--while the first story is told by an elderly man, the second one is told by a young woman. It seems that the writer is especially sensitive to the adaptation of the language structure to the hero's personality and the novel's contents.


Sentence length is considered to be a stylistic feature, that is, one of the characteristic features of an author's style. It was included in "check-lists" of some stylisticians, like R. Fowler, G. N. Leach, and M. H. Short, and was used in different theoretical and practical studies. (1) The reason for focusing on sentence type (or any other linguistic system or element) is to identify and examine features that contribute to the distinctiveness of a specific writer or text.

R. Nir states that writers use sentences of different length in order to create rhythm in their works. (2) He maintains that statistical analysis of sentence length and the level of deviation from the average in literature is an accepted practice in stylistic analysis. According to his evidence, it is typically assumed that in a narrative the sentences are relatively short, though there are many exceptions.

M. Fruchtman contends that sentence length is one of the distinguishing features of a "demonstrative" text where an average simple sentence consists of six to seven words, and an average complex sentence consists of thirteen to fourteen words. (3) She notes, though, that in an "emotional" text sentence length is not stable, and the combination of short and long sentences is possible. M. Z. Kaddari carried out an analysis of the works of different Hebrew writers and found that sentence length ranged from one word to 133, and that short sentences (to ten words) were characteristic of the colloquial speech of the heroes. (4)

Z. Sar el carried out two studies on text formality in Modern Hebrew. (5) In the first one he compared different journalistic formal and informal texts from the daily newspaper "Ma ariv," and in his second work he compared written academic texts with informal spoken discourse. He maintains that sentence length is one of the qualities that distinguish formal speech from informal and, according to him, an exchange with short and sometimes incomplete remarks is one of the identification signs of natural speech in a living language.

Y. Shlesinger analized written texts in modern Hebrew, especially journalistic articles, and claims that the longer a sentence is, the farther it is from spoken language, which has a tendency to shorter sentences. (6) He also states that short sentences serve to describe sequences of events, mostly quick actions, like in adventure stories. In contrast to that, in argumentative texts the writer needs more space in order to express thoughts, and therefore longer sentences are preferred.

The present study examines two novellas written by Judith Katzir "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" (Light-houses inland) and "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (And the clouds are floating, floating). …

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