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Detached Construction

Sometimes one of the secondary parts of a sentence by some specific consideration of, the writer is placed so that it seems formally independent of the word it logically refers to. Such parts of structures are called j detached. They seem to dangle in the sentence as isolated parts. The detached part, being torn away from its referent, assumes a greater degree of significance and is given prominence by intonation. The structural patterns of detached constructions have not yet been classified, but the most noticeable cases are those in which an attribute or an adverbial modifier is placed not in immediate proximity to its referent, but in some other position, as in the following examples:

1) "Steyne rose up, grinding his teeth, pale, and with fury in his eyes". (Thackeray)

2) "Sir Pitt came in first, very much flushed, and rather unsteady in his gait." (Thackeray)

Sometimes a nominal phrase is thrown into the sentence forming a syntactical unit with the rest of the sentence, as in:

"And he walked slowly past again, along the river—an evening of clear, quiet beauty, all harmony and comfort, except within his heart." (Galsworthy)

The essential quality of detached construction lies in the fact that the isolated parts represent a kind of independent whole thrust into the sentence or placed in a position which will make the phrase (or word) seem independent. But a detached phrase cannot rise to the rank of a primary member of the sentence—it always remains secondary from the semantic point of view, although structurally it possesses all the features of a primary member. This clash of the structural and semantic aspects of detached constructions produces the desired effect—forcing the reader to interpret the logical connections between the component parts of the sentence. Logical ties between them always exist in spite of the absence of syntactical indicators.

Detached constructions in their common forms make the written variety of language akin to the spoken variety where the relation between the component parts is effectively materialized by means of intonation. Detached construction, as it were, becomes a peculiar device bridging the norms of written and spoken language.

This stylistic device is akin to inversion. The functions are almost the same. But detached construction produces a much stronger effect, inasmuch as it presents parts of the utterance significant from the author's point of view in a more or less independent manner.

Here are some more examples of detached constructions:

"Daylight was dying, the moon rising, gold behind the poplars." (Galsworthy)

'"I want to go,' he said, miserable." (Galsworthy) "She was lovely: all of her—delightful." (Dreiser)

The italicized phrases and words in these sentences seem to be isolated, but still the connection with the primary members of the corresponding sentences is clearly implied. Thus 'gold behind the poplars' may be interpreted as a simile or a metaphor: the moon like gold was rising behind the poplars, or the moon rising, it was gold...

Detached construction sometimes causes the simultaneous realization of two grammatical meanings of a word. In the sentence" 'I want to !'.<>,' he said, miserable", the last word might possibly have been understood as an adverbial modifier to the word said if not for the comma, though grammatically miserably would be expected. The pause indicated by the comma implies that miserable is an adjective used absolutely and referring to the pronoun hi.

The same can be said about Dreiser's sentence with the word delightful. Here again the mark of punctuation plays an important role. The dash landing before the word makes the word conspicuous and, being isolated, it becomes the culminating point of the climax—lovely...—delightful, i.e. the peak of the whole utterance. The phrase all of her is also somehow isolated. The general impression suggested by the implied intonation, is a strong feeling of admiration; and, as is usually the case, strong feelings reject coherent and logical syntax.

In the English language detached constructions are generally used m the belles-lettres prose style and mainly with words that have some explanatory function, for example:

"June stood in front, fending off this idle curiosity—a little bit of a thing, as somebody said, 'all hair and spirit'..."


Detached construction as a stylistic device is a typification of the syntactical peculiarities of colloquial language.

Detached construction is a stylistic phenomenon which has so far been little investigated. The device itself is closely connected with the intonation pattern of the utterance. In conversation any word or phrase or even sentence may be made more conspicuous by means of intonation. Therefore precision in the syntactical structure of the sentence is not' •.o necessary from the communicative point of view. But it becomes vitally important in writing.1 Here precision of syntactical relations is the only way to make the utterance fully communicative. Therefore when the syntactical relations become obscure, each member of the sentence that seems to be dangling becomes logically significant. A variant of detached construction is parenthesis. "Parenthesis is a qualifying, explanatory or appositive word, phrase, clause, sentence, or other sequence which interrupts a syntactic construction without otherwise affecting it, having often a characteristic intonation and indicated in writing by commas, brackets or dashes." 2

In fact, parenthesis sometimes embodies a considerable volume of predicativeness, thus giving the utterance an additional nuance of meaning or a tinge of emotional colouring.

Date: 2014-12-29; view: 1719

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