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English Stylistics Class 2013. Parallel construction-Polysyndeton, Rhetorical question-Question-in-the-narrative


Parallel construction - is recurrent syntactical similarity. Several parts of a sentence or several sentences are expressed similarly to show that the ideas in the parts or sentences are equal in importance.

  • E.g. "There were, ..., real silver spoons to stir he tea with, and real china cups to drink it out of, and plates of the same to hold the cakes and toast in. " (Dickens)

Parallel constructions are often backed up by repetition of is (lexical repetition) and conjunctions and prepositions polysyndeton).

Parallel constructions may be partial or complete.

  • Partial parallel arrangement is the repetition of some parts of successive sentences or clauses as in:
    "It is the mob that labours in your fields and serve in your houses - that man your navy and recruit your army, - that have enabled you to defy all the world, and can also defy you when neglect and calamity have driven them to despair." (Byron)

Complete – maintaining identical structures throughout the corresponding sentences.

Parallel construction is most frequently used in enumera¬tion, antithesis and in climax, thus consolidating the general effect achieved by these stylistic devices.

There are two main functions of parallel construction: semantic and structural. On the one hand a parallel arrangement suggests equal semantic significance of the component parts, on the other hand, it gives a rhythmical design to these component parts, which makes itself most keenly felt in balanced" constructions.

Polysyndeton is the use of a conjunction between each word, phrase, or clause, and is thus structurally the opposite of asyndeton. The rhetorical effect of polysyndeton, however, often shares with that of asyndeton a feeling of multiplicity, energetic enumeration, and building up.

  • They read and studied and wrote and drilled. I laughed and played and talked and flunked.

The multiple conjunctions of the polysyndetic structure call attention to themselves and therefore add the effect of persistence or intensity or emphasis to the other effect of multiplicity. The repeated use of "nor" or "or" emphasizes alternatives; repeated use of "but" or "yet" stresses qualifications. Consider the effectiveness of these:

  • And to set forth the right standard, and to train according to it, and to help forward all students towards it according to their various capacities, this I conceive to be the business of a University. --John Henry Newman
  • We have not power, nor influence, nor money, nor authority; but a willingness to persevere, and the hope that we shall conquer soon.

I'd say repetition refers to diction--words--and parallel structure refers to grammar patterns. Parallel structure says if you begin, say, a comparison with a clause, the rest of the comparison should also be a clause and not, for example, an infinitive.

Rhetorical question (erotesis) differs from hypophora in that it is not answered by the writer, because its answer is obvious or obviously desired, and usually just a yes or no. It is used for effect, emphasis, or provocation, or for drawing a conclusionary statement from the facts at hand.

  • But how can we expect to enjoy the scenery when the scenery consists entirely of garish billboards?
  • . . . For if we lose the ability to perceive our faults, what is the good of living on? --Marcus Aurelius
  • Is justice then to be considered merely a word? Or is it whatever results from the bartering between attorneys?

Often the rhetorical question and its implied answer will lead to further discussion:

  • Is this the end to which we are reduced? Is the disaster film the highest form of art we can expect from our era? Perhaps we should examine the alternatives presented by independent film maker Joe Blow . . . .
  • I agree the funding and support are still minimal, but shouldn't worthy projects be tried, even though they are not certain to succeed? So the plans in effect now should be expanded to include . . . . [Note: Here is an example where the answer "yes" is clearly desired rhetorically by the writer, though conceivably someone might say "no" to the question if asked straightforwardly.]

Several rhetorical questions together can form a nicely developed and directed paragraph by changing a series of logical statements into queries:

  • We shrink from change; yet is there anything that can come into being without it? What does Nature hold dearer, or more proper to herself? Could you have a hot bath unless the firewood underwent some change? Could you be nourished if the food suffered no change? Do you not see, then, that change in yourself is of the same order, and no less necessary to Nature? --Marcus Aurelius

Sometimes the desired answer to the rhetorical question is made obvious by the discussion preceding it:

  • The gods, though they live forever, feel no resentment at having to put up eternally with the generations of men and their misdeeds; nay more, they even show every possible care and concern for them. Are you, then, whose abiding is but for a moment, to lose patience--you who are yourself one of the culprits? --Marcus Aurelius

When you are thinking about a rhetorical question, be careful to avoid sinking to absurdity. You would not want to ask, for example, "But is it right to burn down the campus and sack the bookstore?" The use of this device allows your reader to think, query, and conclude along with you; but if your questions become ridiculous, your essay may become wastepaper.


Question-in-the-narrative - is asked and answered by one and the same person, usually the author. It becomes akin to a parenthetical statement with strong emotional implications.

  • For what is left the poet here? For Greeks a blush - for Greece a tear.

As is seen from these examples the questions asked, unlike rhetorical questions do not contain statements.Question in the narrative is very often used in oratory. This is explained by one of the leading features of oratorical style - to induce the desired reaction to the content of the speech.





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