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Stylistic Inversion

Word-order is a crucial syntactical problem in many languages. In English it has peculiarities which have been caused by the concrete and specific way the language has developed. O. Jespersen states that the English language, "...has developed a tolerably fixed word-order which in the great majority of cases shows without fail what is the Subject of the sentence." 2 This "tolerably fixed word-order" is Subject Verb (Predicate) Object (SPO). Further, Jespersen mentions a statistical investigation of word-order made on the basis of a series of representative 19th century writers. It was found that the order S P0 was used in from 82 to 97 per cent of all sentences containing all three members, while the percentage for Beowulf was 16 and for King Alfred's prose 40.

This predominance of SPO word-order makes conspicuous any change in the structure of the sentence and inevitably calls forth a modification in the intonation design.

The most conspicuous places in the sentence are considered to be the first and the last: the first place because the full force of the stress can be felt at the beginning of an utterance and the last place because there is a pause after it. This traditional word-order had developed a definite intonation design. Through frequency of repetition this design has imposed itself on any sentence even though there are changes introduced in the sequence of the component parts. Hence the clash between semantically insignificant elements of the sentence when they are placed in structurally significant position and the intonation which follows the recognized pattern.

Thus in Dickens' much quoted sentence:

"Talent Mr. Micawber has; capital Mr. Micawber has not." The first and the last positions being prominent, the verb has and the negative not get a fuller volume of stress than they would in ordinary (uninverted) word-order. In the traditional word-order the predicates has and has not are closely attached to their objects talent and capital. English predicate-object groups are so bound together 1 that when we tear the object away from its predicate, the latter remains dangling in the sentence and in this position sometimes calls forth a change in meaning of the predicate word. In the inverted word-order not only the objects talent and capital become conspicuous but also the predicates has and has not.

In this example the effect of the inverted word-order is backed up by two other stylistic devices: antithesis and parallel construction. Unlike grammatical inversion, stylistic inversion does not change the structural meaning of the sentence, that is, the change in the juxtaposition of the members of the sentence does not indicate structural meaning but has some superstructural function. Stylistic inversion aims at attaching logical stress or additional emotional colouring to the surface meaning of the utterance. Therefore a specific intonation pattern is the inevitable satellite of inversion.

Stylistic inversion in Modern English should not be regarded as a violation of the norms of standard English. It is only the practical realization of what is potential in the language itself.

The following patterns of stylistic inversion are most frequently met in both English prose and English poetry.

I. The object is placed at the beginning of the sentence (see the example above).

2. The attribute is placed after the word it modifies (postposition of the attribute). This model is often used when there is more than one attribute, for example:

"With fingers weary and worn..." (Thomas Hood) "Once upon a midnight dreary..." (E. A. Poe)

3. a) The predicative is placed before the subject, as in

"A good generous prayer it was." (Mark Twain)

or b) the predicative stands before the link-verb and both are placed before the subject, as in

"Rude am I in my speech..." (Shakespeare)

4. The adverbial modifier is placed at the beginning of the sentence, as in:

"Eagerly I wished the morrow." (Poe)

"My dearest daughter, at your feet I fall." (Dryden)

"A tone of most extraordinary comparison Miss fox said it in."


5. Both modifier and predicate stand before the subject, as in:

"In went Mr. Pickwick." (Dickens) "Down dropped the breeze..." (Coleridge)

These 5 models comprise the most common models of inversion.

However, in modern English and American poetry, as has been shown elsewhere, there appears a definite tendency to experiment with the word-order to the extent which may even render the message unintelligible. In this case there may be an almost unlimited number of rearrangements of the members of the sentence.

Inversion as a stylistic device is always sense-motivated. There is a tendency to account for inversion in poetry by rhythmical considerations. This may sometimes be true, but really talented poets will never sacrifice sense for form and in the majority of cases inversion in poetry is called forth by considerations of content rather than rhythm.

Inverted word-order, or inversion, is one of the forms of what are known as emphatic constructions. What is generally called traditional word-order is nothing more than unemphatic construction. Emphatic constructions have so far been regarded as non-typical structures and therefore are considered as violations of the regular word-order in the sentence. But in practice these structures are as common as the fixed or traditional word-order structures. Therefore inversion must be regarded as an expressive means of the language having typical structural models.

Date: 2014-12-29; view: 2831

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