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Lecture No 6. Stylistic syntax

1. General considerations

The object of stylistic analysis on syntactic level is sentence. Within the domain of syntax stylistics deals with the following crucial problems: 1) the stylistic potential of syntactic units of different structural design, semantic characteristics and communicative types; 2) the syntactic synonymy, i.e. the peculiarities of rendering of one and the same logical content by syntactic units with different structure, functional characteristics, expressive colouring and connotations; 3) description of syntactical expressive means and stylistic devices.

Owing to its constructive nature, syntax is considered to have more perceptible stylistic power (when compared with morophological and lexical level) because it embraces the expressive potential of morphology and vocabulary. Syntax is the structural basis of any utterance and text: the process of nomination and metaphorization, logical and figurative, emotional, expressive and poetic colouring of the words, language imagery and symbolism, specific figures of speech, new coinages and at last the individual speaker’s creativity are actualized only on the level of syntax, and, having been melted into a completed unity, can fulfill its communicative purpose. Thus the importance of syntax for stylistic analysis is hard to overestimate. It is syntax that fixes the stylistic aspect of any text. Syntax, alongside with other stylistic elements (phonetic, morphological, lexical) that secure utterance meaning, provide it with additional connotations or expressiveness and contribute to the development of text imagery system, is an efficient mediator of aesthetic delight.

To desplay the stylistic value of syntactic constructions which by their form render the main idea of the text, reflect the type of author’s personal perception and perform a characteralogical stylistic function, let us refer to the following example:

Sun in a blaze. Lost its shape. Tide pouring up from London as bright as bottled ale. Full of bubbles and every bubble flashing its own electric torch. Mist breaking into round fat shapes, china white on Dresden blue. Dutch angels by Rubens della Robbia. Big one on top curled up with her knees to her nose like the little marble woman Dobson did for Courtauld. A beauty. Made me jump to think of it. You could have turned it round in your hand. Smooth and neat as a cricket ball. A classic Event (J. Carry).

What is the extract about? It is about a bright sun over the Thames, tide and white clouds against the background of sparkling blue sky. But due to the special syntactic shape the text is loaded with additional expressive and emotional information. It makes the reader to look at the picture from the point of view of the artist and even to identify the artistic trend it is executed in. The general effect is created by short, elliptical or nominal sentences that resemble quick, energetic brushstrokes on a canvas. Writer’s peculiarities of world perception (encoded in the extract– queer, full of unexpected images and reminiscences) rests upon the stylistic function of its syntactic organization.

The leading feature of stylistic function of syntax is that it works almost inconspicuously but at the same time the effect produced is strong and perceptible. Sentence length and structure are the primary and constant factors which influence the stylistic function of syntactic constructions and correlates with the semantic, compositional and expressive properties of a text. To support this statement let us refer to the following examples:

I slipped along behind the bar and out through the kitchen in back all the way out. I went clear around the outside of the square and went in through the gate and out onto the dock and got on board (E. Hemingway).

When the shooting started, he had clapped his helmet on his head so hard it banged his head as though he had been hit with a casserole and, in the last lung-aching, leg-dead, mouth-dry, bullet-spatting, bullet-cracking, bullet-singing run up the final slope of the hill after his horse was killed, the helmet had seem to weigh a great amount and to ring his bursting forehead with an iron bang. But he had kept it (E. Hemingway).

I am, he thought, a part of all that I have touched and that has touched me, which, having for me no existence save that I gave to it, became other than itself by being mixed with what I then was, and is now still otherwise, having fused with what I now am, which is itself a cummulation of what I have been becoming (Th. Wolfe).

In the first example the length and structure of the sentences contribute to the rendering the dynamic character of the event. Direction, manner, tempo of the action is expressed not only by the meaning of the verbs slipped, went, got but also by the accumulation of homogeneous adverbial modifiers in both sentences, their parallel distribution which intensifies the utterance and secures its rhythmical arrangement. Therefore the utterance that contains not a single lexical emotive or expressive element is loaded with emotional tension only due to its syntactic structure.

In the second example a short final sentence neigbours with a long initial one that exceeds it in length considerably. This linear arrangement of the utterance creates a specific rhythmical and intonation drop and influences the meaning of the whole extract. It actualizes the cause-and-effect relations that exist between the parts of the utterance: the short sentence mounts the catharsis, the outcome of the emotional, logical or situational strain, which exists in the long one.

The structural complexity of the third example serves as a reflection of complexity and intricacy of character’s thoughts, his intention to grasp the most vitally important things, his need to come to the conclusion. Hence, long complex or compound sentences, being introduced into the structure of a text make the emotive prose sound heavy and ponderous. In such sentences the number of clauses, expletives and detached, absolute or participial constructions may be practically unlimited. English and Ukrainian literatures abound in examples of strings that contain 100, 300 or even more than 500 words. The occurrence of these giants is not at all accidental. The complex syntactic organization of a text always has a definite artistic function. It creates a special subjective modality, produces the effect of chaotic character of narration or perception, and in most cases is a literary attempt to represent the actual stream of consciousness (for example – the works of J. Joyce, J.C. Oates, N. Mailer, W. Faulkner, У. Самчук, Л. Аграновський, etc).

And vice versa, lightness, clarity, transparency and memorability are the indispensable feature of the prose built up of simple (extended or unextended) sentences (with a slight dissemination of complex sentences). Balanced in length and structure, the components of such texts create the perceptible rhythm in emotive prose, which in most cases contributes to the development of its idea and embodied images:

Море дедалі втрачало спокій. Чайки знімались із одиноких берегових скель, припадали грудьми до хвилі і плакали над морем. Море потемніло, змінилось. Дрібні хвилі зливались докупи і, мов брили зеленкуватого скла, непомітно підкрадались до берега, падали на пісок і розбивались на білу піну. Під човном клекотіло, кипіло, щумувало, а він підскакував і плигав, немов нісся кудись на білогривих звірах (М. Коцюбинський).

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