Say who is this typing man?

I don't even know, people. They let anyone write on the internet nowadays.

Feb 23, 2010

Of Poets and Parts of Speech

As an aspiring editor and an avid lover of the phenomenon of Language, not to mention a person immersed in the literary world of an English major, I occasionally have a geek out in which i start to think of Stuff I'd Like to Write a Paper On - or rather, Things I'd Like to See Other People Write Because I'm a Lazy Sonnuvagun. One such geeking occurred yesterday, so i thought i'd blog rather than actually do research and junk :D (oh emoticons... how i love thee).

In my 200 level Linguistic class (the introductory class to linguistics rather than a grammar or history of the language course) we used the first two lines of Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky to emphasize the way we can classify parts of speech by using an innate sense of sentence placement, so we can recognize words that we have never heard before as a noun or verb as long as it is in a context using function words. The example was :

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
Lewis Carroll, "Jabberwocky" lines 1-4

Now the presence of the determiners ("the" in this case, although "the mome" could be a determiner phrase) signals to a reader that the following word is a noun - in this case, highlighted as orange. Brillig could be argued as either a noun (in the predicate complement placement- "it was evening") or as an adjective (it was
cold), but i went with noun... cause i felt like it. in the case of the green lit words, the placement indicates that it is modifying the nouns following, making them adjectives (also, the ending of -y is a common ending for adjectives and adverbs - modifiers in general). "mome raths" could be argued as a compound word
or name for a creature, but mome could also be a type of rath- hence the adjectival highlight. the blue words are obviously verbs due to their placement either in the clause or next to the modifying auxiliary verbs.

now, i found this incredibly cool (cause it is!), and my mind began wandering backto contemplating it at odd times. I had my Shakespeare midterm yesterday (part one), and finished with around 10 minutes to spare. The first part of our two class midterm is basically murdering Shakespeare by translating his words into a
literal series of synonyms: "But look, what lights come yond?" (Othello 1.2.28) becomes "Hold on, what are those lights for?"

The horror of attacking Shakespeare with a big freaking hammer and a pair of hedge clippers aside, i had a discussion with another person who finished early outside of the class regarding the difficulty of finding alternate function words, leadingme to think about the jabberwocky example. I also had a song stuck in my head from a previous year in women's choir, an arrangement of an e. e. cummings poem. Now this poem, "i thank You God for most this amazing" is one of my absolute favorites. I love it hardcore for serious. i already feel an affinity with e. e. cummings for his arbitrary capitalization, and the way he arranges words blows my mind. having learned a choral arrangement that focuses new attention to depth of meaning didn't hurt, either. Looking at the poem, i realized that cummings in his work does the complete opposite of Lewis Carroll:  where Carroll coins words and relies on the mind's automatic sorting system to assign meaning and lexical classification, cummings uses words from the English language but relies on the recognition of their original purpose to assign new meaning in "wrong" placement. In a way, he relies on the presence of a universal grammar, because his word order would be "correct" if directly translated into a different language:

 i thank You God for most this amazing

day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
wich is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
e. e. cummings "i thank You God for most this amazing"

 (note: i pulled this from, so i'm unsure as to whether the misspelled "wich" in line 4 is a cummings thing or a mistake on the website's part)

Anyway, you can totally see what he's doing here: word placement and punctuation and capitalization are played with to cause the reader to address a normal sentence with a new perspective. the use of "birthday" in line 6 and then the separated "birth day" going from line 6 to 7 takes a compound word that is stored in the mental lexicon of an average person as one word and breaks it into its original morphemes in such a way that a reader cannot help but separate them herself. it's awesome. the run on gerunds at the beginning of the third stanza creates a sense of urgency as well as causes a reader to read "nothing" as a gerund as well, instead of as a noun."human merely being" may be my favorite phrase ever.

i'm kind of pulling this analyzing time from my interning work, so i'm going to leave it here, but just think about it. it's amazing.

No comments:

Post a Comment

My comments are non-moderated. Troll away.