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I was rereading an article by Roman Jacobson (a Russian poet and linguist) called "Closing Statement: Linguistics and Poetics" (in Style in Language, ed. Thomas A Sebeok). One passage, at the beginning, stood out:
quote:
Poetics deals primarily with the question, What makes a verbal message a work of art? Because the main subject of poetics is the differentia specifica of verbal art in relation to other arts and in relation to of kinds of verbal behavior, poetics is entitled to the leading place in literary studies.

Poetics deals with the problem of verbal structure, just as the analysis of a painting is concerned with pictorial structure. Since linguistics is the global science of verbal structure, poetics may be regarding as an integral part of linguistics.

For many people, poets and non-poets alike, in the anglophone world, a poem has three important features: meter, rhyme, and poetic language. Yet, there exist many poems, in English and other languages, that do not have one or more of these features. Take meter and rhyme. Both of these features have something to do with the formal structure of poems, while poetic language seems to have more to do with the expressive content and emotional impact of the poem.

What are some of the salient features of prosody (the linguistic term for poetical meter and rhythmic aspects of other kinds of speech)? It is a rhythmic pattern that is superimposed over the text. Many of these metrical patterns have names (mostly Greek from Classical times): e.g., iambic (x /), dactylic (/ x x). Most think that these patterns are solely accentual patterns, as they are in many traditional and contemporary poems), but Greek, Roman, and Indian meters were quantitative, based on the length or brevity of a syllable rather than pitch or stress accent of the feet in a verse. But, not all meters are based on contrasting parts of the foot. For example, French poetry tends to be syllabic, merely counting the syllables in a verse. Another kind of meter, popular in Old English (as well as other kinds of ancient Germanic poetry) and found today in some nursery rhymes, is accentual. That is only the stressed syllables are counted. The number of syllables in a line is not fixed, but the number of stressed syllables in a line are. Not all syllabic meter involves counting syllables. For example Japanese haiku counts onji (moras in linguistic prosody).

Rhyme is a kind of lexical pattern. There are more kinds of rhyme than the love-dove variety. For example, alliteration (or head rhyme), assonance (where the vowels of a syllable match, mate-take) and many others. If we think about the possible parts of a syllable, it consists of an onset, a nucleus, and a coda. The first and third elements can be optional in some languages. All three may consist of more than one phoneme, e.g., consonant clusters or diphthongs. So, there are many possible combinatorial structures for different kinds of rhyme? Not co-incidentally most of these have names and have been used. But, remember that not all poetry rhymes. Greek and Roman poetry almost never used rhyme. Many great poetical works in English do not rhyme. For example, Shakespeare hardly uses rhyme. There are his sonnets, which do rhyme, of course, but there are also the body of his plays, most of which are in iambic pentameter, with little to no rhyme, except in some couplets which end a scene or mark a character's exit.

The third important feature is poetical language. This is a rag-bag term that covers a lot of territory. Lexical selection (archaic or poetical words), marked syntax (non-ordinary word order), playfulness with language as the stuff which makes up the text.

Here are some examples:

A nursery rhyme, illustrating accentual meter (two stresses, but a variable number of syllables, per line and rhyme:

Baa, baa, black sheep, (4)
Have you any wool? (5)
Yes sir, yes sir, (4)
Three bags full; (3)
One for the master, (5)
And one for the dame, (5)
And one for the little boy (7)
Who lives down the lane. (5)

The beginning of Hamlet's great soliloquy on being. Though in iambic pentameter, this excerpt illustrates how sometimes feet can be inverted (an iamb, x /, becomes a trochee, / x) at the beginning of the sewcond line.

To be, or not to be: that is the question: (11)
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer (11)
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. (11)

Note that though iambic pentameter usually has ten syllables (i.e., five feet of two syllables each) that Shakespeare sometimes added an unstressed syllable at the end of the line, as in the example above. Many poets used different devices (as in inversion and addition above) to vary the rhythm of a line.

Some poetry does not rely on meter or rhyme. Most famously, in the past 200 years in free verse. But, ancient Hebrew poetry did not use meter or rhyme. This lead to a fashion in Europe to paraphrase the Psalms using meter and (sometimes) rhyme. These are called metrical psalms. Gerard Manley Hopkins and TS Elliot experimented with different kinds of rhythmical patterns. And some poets, e.g., Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, more or less found meter not to be too important in their poetry.

Poetry by Marianne Moore (link)

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
      all this fiddle.
   Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
      discovers in
   it after all, a place for the genuine.
      Hands that can grasp, eyes
      that can dilate, hair that can rise
         if it must, these things are important not because a

In his essay on accentual meter (link) poet Dana Gioia addresses the chestnut about free verse being prose reformatted. No less a poet than WH Auden is cited:
quote:
Anglo-Saxon poets added two important acoustic elements to the basic rule of accentual verse—alliteration and the medial pause. They heightened the central sonic effect of their basic meter, the four beat lines, by pausing slightly midway and alliterating three of the four stressed syllables. One significant and often overlooked purpose of meter is to stylize poetic speech in a way that immediately differentiates it from ordinary speech. Such stylization is essential to oral poetry since meter must endow what is being said with the special status of art. Anglo-Saxon verse used alliterative stress to accomplish this stylization. In The Age of Anxiety (1947), a long poem written in the Anglo-Saxon measure, W. H. Auden demonstrates how even a wartime radio newscast can be transformed into poetry:

Now the news. Night raids on
Five cities. Fires started.
Pressure applied by pincer movement
In threatening thrust. Third Division
Enlarges beachhead. Lucky charm
Saves sniper. Sabotage hinted
In steel-mill stoppage. Strong point held
By fanatical Nazis. Canal crossed . . .

Auden's example also illustrates the three standard variations of \ alliterative verse. First, he substitutes two paired alliterations (as in "Five \ \ \ cities. Fires started.") for the usual triple alliteration per line. Second, \ \ \ Auden's alliterations in "Pressure applied by pincer movement" demonstrate that alliteration does not necessarily fall on the first syllable of a word but rather the first strongly stressed syllable. Finally, even the ambiguous alliterations of line five (in which beach perhaps alliterates with charm) reminds one that Anglo-Saxon poets sometimes included only two alliterations per line—one on each side of the caesura.


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"As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome." [Ezra Pound]

"No verse is free for the man who wants to do a good job." [TS Eliot]

"The iambic pentameter is a pulse; it is the heartbeat of Shakespeare's poetry. Like your pulse it does not keep a steady, dull pace; it races with excitement, dances with joy or terror, slows down in contemplation. [...] There is nothing mechanical about the rhythms of great poetry. If they seem mechanical, you have made them so." [Kristin Linklater (1992) Freeing Shakespeare's Voice: The Actor's Guide to Talking the Text.]

1. An example of sprung verse:

The Windhover:
To Christ Our Lord

Gerard Manley Hopkins [1844-89]

    I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
      dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
      Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
    High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
    In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
      As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend the hurl and gliding
      Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
    Stirred for a bird -- the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

    Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
      Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
    Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

      No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
    Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
      Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

2. An example of free verse:

Musee des Beaux Arts
W. H. Auden [1907-73]

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the plowman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

3. An example of metrical (iambic tetrameter), rhyming verse:

i sing of Olaf glad and big
e e cummings [1894-1962]

i sing of Olaf glad and big
whose warmest heart recoiled at war:
a conscientious object-or

his wellbelovéd colonel(trig
westpointer most succinctly bred)
took erring Olaf soon in hand;
but--though an host of overjoyed
noncoms(first knocking on the head
him)do through icy waters roll
that helplessness which others stroke
with brushes recently employed
anent this muddy toiletbowl,
while kindred intellects evoke
allegiance per blunt instruments--
Olaf(being to all intents
a corpse and wanting any rag
upon what God unto him gave)
responds,without getting annoyed
"I will not kiss your fucking flag"

straightway the silver bird looked grave
(departing hurriedly to shave)

but--though all kinds of officers
(a yearning nation's blueeyed pride)
their passive prey did kick and curse
until for wear their clarion
voices and boots were much the worse,
and egged the firstclassprivates on
his rectum wickedly to tease
by means of skilfully applied
bayonets roasted hot with heat--
Olaf(upon what were once knees)
does almost ceaselessly repeat
"there is some shit I will not eat"

our president,being of which
assertions duly notified
threw the yellowsonofabitch
into a dungeon,where he died

Christ(of His mercy infinite)
i pray to see;and Olaf,too

preponderatingly because
unless statistics lie he was
more brave than me:more blond than you.

4. Comparing trochaic tetrameter to trochaic tetrameter catalectic:

Song of Hiawatha
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow [1807-82]

By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.
Dark behind it rose the forest,
Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,
Rose the firs with cones upon them;
Bright before it beat the water,
Beat the clear and sunny water,
Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.

The Tyger
William Blake [1757-1827]

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright,
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire in thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, and what art?
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand, and what dread feet?

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Here's an example of "free verse" from ca.1761; an excerpt from the long poem, Jubilate Agno by the renowned English poet, Christopher Smart [1722-71]:

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his Way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer...

For when his day's work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life...

For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion....

For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadrupede.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the musick
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.

Smart wrote his poem while an inmate at St Luke's Hospital for Lunatics in London.


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quote:
wrote his poem while an inmate at St Luke's Hospital for Lunatics

Is that an opinion on free verse?


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Is that an opinion on free verse?

No, it is a biographical detail. I tend to side with the New Critics in de-emphasizing importance of biography in evaluating or interpreting the work of art.


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I tend to side with the New Critics in de-emphasizing importance of biography in evaluating or interpreting the work of art.

So we should ignore the fact that this poem may be a result of his lunacy and consider it as from a rational thought process? Not to imply it's the ramblings of a madman, though it is.

It seems to me to me merely a not too exciting or interesting list of a cat's normal attributes, except this cat somehow got religion. Or am I too dense to appreciate it?


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So we should ignore the fact that this poem may be a result of his lunacy and consider it as from a rational thought process? Not to imply it's the ramblings of a madman, though it is.

I didn't ignore it, in fact I brought it up. I simply said that the fact of Smart's mental condition was not connected to whether a poem written in free verse was a poem or not. In fact, if you've read Winchester's book about James Murray and Dr William Minor, you'd see that one can be a madman and be the best reader for the OED that ever was. It may be the poetical ramblings of a madman, but that does not have a bearing on what is poetry. Jubilate Agno is a poem in spite of the mental condition of its author when it was composed.


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Winchester's book about James Murray and Dr William Minor, you'd see that one can be a madman and be the best reader for the OED that ever was

Agreed.


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There is, though, a perhaps romantic belief that many great artists suffered madness of some form or another. This article discusses associations between madness and art.


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Bob and z and I have been talking about free verse in a PM because I had wanted to learn more about it. I guess I am not very poetry savvy as I learned something there that is probably a no-brainer to the rest of you...that is, how important it is to read the poetry aloud. I saw this recently at a conference when a speaker read a poem (or prose...I still don't know what it is) to us. It was magnificent. I just read these poems that z posted aloud, and I really see the difference. How many times in my life have I read Longfellow's Hiawatha. Yet, reading it outloud made it so much better.

One question...let's take Auden's Musee des Beaux Arts, above. When reading it aloud, I had difficulty knowing when to pause. One should pause with the punctuation, correct, and not at the end of the lines? How does the poet decide where to end the lines? And why end the lines, rather than ending with the punctuation?

Auden's wartime newscast was interesting because it put the mundane into verse. I've always loved using alliteration with limericks.

However, I keep going back to the old-fashioned kind of poems with rhymes. For example, I loved reading Blake's The Tyger again. I read it over and over. His use of words is stunning.

That doesn't mean, though, that I don't like free verse. I am beginning to appreciate it much more...and perhaps to even understand why it's poetry and not prose (though maybe not completely).

Smart's poem reminded me of a chant we always say during our Seder, the Dayenu. We have such fun with that in our family because we go around the table and each person tries to say it as fast as he/she can.

[Edit: Thanks to Jerry's eagle eyes, I corrected Wadsworth with Longfellow. Sorry for the mistake!]

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I've been known to recite Poe's masterpiece The Raven for any audience I can capture. It's full of alliteration ... my favorite: "Nothing further then he uttered; not a feather then he fluttered, till I scarcely more than muttered ..... "

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Smart's poem reminded me of a chant we always say during our Seder, the Dayenu.

There's a good reason for that. He's consciously mimicking Old Testament poetic style. Ancient Hebrew poetry neither rhymes nor is composed in a discernable meter. (It is free verse avant la lettre). I cited one of the more anthologized passages from the Jubilate Agno because it was about his cat Jeffry, because I know how people love cats. The rest of the poem his imbued with religious imagery. As for Auden's Musee poem, many of the lines naturally break into two parts. This pause is called a caesura. The caesura usually coincides with punctuation or at a clausal boundary. For example:

About suffering || they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: || how well they understood
Its human position; || how it takes place
While someone else is eating || or opening a window || or just walking dully along;

This is a common enough occurrence in Classical, quantitative verse as well as accentual. Auden experimented with free verse as well as with more traditional meters. (In the fourth line the pauses come from the parallel structure.) In the first three lines, the two half-lines consist of two stressed syllables each and a variable number of unstressed ones. This is the normal style for pre-rhyming, pre-stressed-syllabic meter in Germanic poetry, e.g., Beowulf. (Did you know that the first example of ottava rima in a Germanic language is a chivalric, Arthurian poem in Yiddish? It's the Bovo-Bukh, which was written in the early 16th century by Elia Levita.


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Many of these metrical patterns have names (mostly Greek from Classical times): e.g., iambic (x /), dactylic (/ x x). Most think that these patterns are solely accentual patterns, as they are in many traditional and contemporary poems), but Greek, Roman, and Indian meters were quantitative, based on the length or brevity of a syllable rather than pitch or stress accent of the feet in a verse. But, not all meters are based on contrasting parts of the foot. For example, French poetry tends to be syllabic, merely counting the syllables in a verse. Another kind of meter, popular in Old English (as well as other kinds of ancient Germanic poetry) and found today in some nursery rhymes, is accentual. That is only the stressed syllables are counted. The number of syllables in a line is not fixed, but the number of stressed syllables in a line are. Not all syllabic meter involves counting syllables. For example Japanese haiku counts onji (moras in linguistic prosody).


Sorry to be coming late to this interesting study, zmj. Would I be correct if I interpreted the above paragraph to be demonstrating different ways, in different languages, of keeping time? In other words, can we say that beating time, whether it be with second-hand or heartbeat, is the common denominator?
 
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Would I be correct if I interpreted the above paragraph to be demonstrating different ways, in different languages, of keeping time? In other words, can we say that beating time, whether it be with second-hand or heartbeat, is the common denominator?

I think you're on to something. I have heard of people using their heartbeat to time certain events. Latin mora 'delay' is a loan translation (aka calque) of the Greek term χρονος (khronos), literally 'time, period' but in poetics 'time, quantity of a syllable'. Poets who compose in other languages use different features from those languages themselves. Not all languages are have stressed-based prosody. Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit use quantity-based. Chinese uses tone. Another Latin metrical term is ictus 'blow, strike; stress, beat' from the past participle of ico, icere, 'to hit, strike'.


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Clearly there is some consensus about what makes something 'poetic' that is ancient, and that something I believe is musical, or, with a finer point, rhythmic.

I think of this often when I am teaching our youngest Americans. The attention span for the spoken word is very short at ages 2,3,4 as we all know. However, regardless of the degree of chaos they've slipped into, one need only break into song, or turn on some recorded music, and a group of 25 piled-up and wiggling toddlers will immediately turn as one to face the source of the music, and listen, swaying slightly to the beat.

I hesitate to say that the call of rhythm is universal-- even though all our hearts beat-- because I do not have an understanding of the music of Eastern Asia. Nor of the languages. I believe I'm hearing song, definitely-- all those varying pitches! But from my limited experience in listening to, say, spoken Mandarin and Japanese on TV/movies, or to Chinese opera, I can't translate the sequence of sounds and silences to what I think of as 'rhythm.' Although it has occurred to me, after hearing haiku, as well as famous Zen sayings, in the original, that there is some complex rhythm there-- that I need to include the silences, somehow, in order to get it.
 
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all those varying pitches!

We use tone in English, too. It's just not something that differentiates between lexical items as it does in Chinese. We use tone to indicate changes in the overall meaning of a sentence or phrase. For example, in English rising tone at the end of a statement indicates that the declarative sentence is really a question. In Chinese changing the tone of a word (e.g., rising with falling), is like replacing an p with a c in pot. You get a different word cot. Japanese doesn't use tone in this way. They also don't have strongly stressed syllables (or morae) as we do in English. I know that rhythmic patterns are important in poetry as well as music, but I was suggesting that these patterns are a specification of pattern recognition / generation. Rhyme in all its varieties is a kind of pattern as well as parallelism in syntax, e.g., repetition of phrase structure rather than repetition of words. If you think of a syllable as having three parts: an onset, a nucleus, and a coda, you can see rhyme as different kinds of patterns. Where you match the onsets of syllables you have alliteration, the nucleus by itself, assonance, and finally the nucleus plus coda, end rhyme. Besides sound / silence and rhythm, another important feature in music is ratio. Doubling the frequency of a sound to make it go up an octave.


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In Chinese, then, suppose that the word you use to end each of 3 successive lines is one of those words which is the same syllable, but if spoken on 3 different pitches, means 3 different things. Would this be something like a rhyme?

I am probably being too literal. It may be that the Chinese language does not lend itself to "line" and "end-word". I will assume from what you've said, however, that Chinese poetry might make use of, say, repeating groups of a certain sequence of pitches. This makes me wonder whether there is a consistent relationship between the pitch of a syllable and the meaning of the resulting word. If high pitch, for example, has no consistent relationship to part of speech, shade of meaning, etc, it must be a huge challenge to write something which has repeating pitch patterns-- and makes sense!

If I understand your overall point correctly, it is that pattern-- in its most basic sense, playing with presence and absence of repetition-- is the key ingredient of poetics regardless of language. I think we can also say that pattern in any medium signals the intention to communicate artistically.
 
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There's a good reason for that. He's consciously mimicking Old Testament poetic style. Ancient Hebrew poetry neither rhymes nor is composed in a discernable meter. (It is free verse avant la lettre). I cited one of the more anthologized passages from the Jubilate Agno because it was about his cat Jeffry, because I know how people love cats. The rest of the poem his imbued with religious imagery.
Very interesting. There is nothing more beautiful than Hebrew chanting, in my opinion. However, I'd never equated it with poetry. I am going to have to read the rest of the poem.
 
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Today I stumbled across a collection of limericks (link) where the rhyming words at the ends of each line play around with some quirkiness of English orthography, e.g.:

There was a young fellow named Cholmondeley,
Whose bride was so mellow and colmondeley
That the best man, Colquhoun,
An inane young bolqufoun,
Could only stand still and stare dolmondeley.

[Via the wonderfule Languagehat (link).]

[Addendum: NSFW or the squeamish.]

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some quirkiness of English orthography

And this is your justification for leading we innocents into the world of dirty limericks?


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And this is your justification for leading we innocents into the world of dirty limericks?

Some aficionados of the limerick hold that only the obscene ones are worthy of our consideration.


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we innocents

I've been hashing this over since I wrote it.

Is it "we innocents" or is it "us innocents"?

I prefer to think of limericks as "dirty" so I won't get hauled into court for "obscenity."


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Is it "we innocents" or is it "us innocents"?

Well, traditionally it ought to be: "And this is your justification for leading us innocents into the world of dirty limericks?" With the pronominal form in the oblique case cuz it's a direct object of the verbal noun leading, but for laissez-faire, anything goes, anarchist descriptatarians whatcha wrote is fine and all that.


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us innocents

I told that other voice in my head he was wrong, but would he listen? Oh, no! And that, says my doctor, is what all that medicine is for.


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that other voice in my head

Was your grammatical homunculus channeling Tom Sawyer again? The only voices you should heed are the active and passive ones in your innate grammar. (And, why aren't the Grammato-Einsatzgruppen up in arms ferreting out the preceding illogical plural of one? Too busy defacing historical signage with their sharpies.)


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Well, traditionally it ought to be: "And this is your justification for leading us innocents into the world of dirty limericks?" With the pronominal form in the oblique case cuz it's a direct object of the verbal noun leading,
With words like "pronominal forms" and "oblique cases," z's explanation must be correct. And yet, it's considered ungrammatical (at least my teacher used to tell us that in elementary school) to have 2 subjects of a sentence, such as saying, "My mother she is good." So isn't this the same? Why does one need the "us" at all? Why not, "leading the innocents" or "leading those of us who are innocents" or something? It may be technically correct this way, but I am certain my English teacher wouldn't have liked it.

BTW, nice limericks! Thanks, z. I often forget about Language Hat.
 
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Why does one need the "us" at all? Why not, "leading the innocents" or "leading those of us who are innocents" or something? It may be technically correct this way, but I am certain my English teacher wouldn't have liked it.

It's easy to have two subjects, because that's what the conjunction and is for. Wink How about:
quote:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

My high school English teacher taught me that this is called apposition (link).


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On the chat this Saturday, I'd mentioned my receiving G Legman's The Limerick, a fine collection of filthy poems. In passing, Bob brought up Legman's denial of any such thing as a "clean" limerick.
quote:
The limerick is, and was originally, an indecent verse-form. The "clean" sort of limerick is an obviously [sic] palliation, its content insipid, its rhyming artificially ingenious, its hole pervaded with a frustrated nonsense that vents itself typically in explosive and aggressive violence. There are, certainly, aggressive bawdy limericks too, but they are not in the majority. Except as the maidenly delight and silly delectation of a few elderly gentlemen, such as the late Langford Reed, and several still living who might as well remain nameless, the clean limerick has never been of the slightest real interest to anyone, since the end of its brief fad in the 1860's. Nor has this fad ever been successfully revived by the periodic advertising contests, exciting amateur versifiers to hack together clean limericks by the tens of thousands. It should be observed in this connection, and despite the continuous devaluation of any monetary sum over the sixty years past, that were a prize to be offered here of £3 a week for life, as has been given for a limerick last line, in a British cigarette contest in 1907, the present writer could seriously demand and safely expect that thousands of unpoetic amateurs in Great Britain and the United States would slap themselves silly for the next six months or two years, trying to compose seven -line stanzas in spondaic hexameter—alternating with amphibrachs and amphimacers, if I felt like being cruel—all seven lines to rhyme solely with the words silver, swollen, spoilt, and sylph (none of which have rhymes). Needless to say, the winning entry and all seventeen thousand losing entries would immediately and forever be forgotten, except by their authors , the moment the winner would be announced. Viable folk-poetry and folk-poetic forms, cannot be created by such cash-on-the-barrelhead methods.

Rather strong opinion, and I am not sure that I agree with Legman, because I have read some great, non-bawdy limericks.


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the clean limerick has never been of the slightest real interest to anyone, since the end of its brief fad in the 1860's.
He'd surely not like OEDILF. Heck, he'd only like the ones that are "behind the curtain."

I don't agree with him, though I will go so far as to say that if the limerick isn't funny, it's not a limerick. I just don't think those serious limericks, defining a word, are really limericks. I know. I've written them myself. I even wrote one on Auschwitz, which obviously couldn't be funny. I wish I could delete it from their system, but I can't. Once a limerick is approved over there, it's etched in stone, unfortunately.

quote:
My high school English teacher taught me that this is called apposition
Okay. And perhaps I leaped to a conclusion about us innocents since they're not the subjects of the sentence. However, you have to admit that my example ("my mother she is good") is incorrect and that my English teacher was right about that, don't you?
 
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However, you have to admit that my example ("my mother she is good") is incorrect and that my English teacher was right about that, don't you?

Depends on the context. For emphasis, it's seems grammatical to me. YMMV.


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Okay then. I am surprised.

I mean, some sentences are grammatically incorrect, aren't they?
 
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I mean, some sentences are grammatically incorrect, aren't they?

Sure. Just not these ones.


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OTOH I would teach my ESOL students NOT to say "My mother, she is right" because although it technically ISN'T an error when you use it for emphasis it is a feature of most students interlanguage at some stage or other used NOT for emphasis but simply because it is the normal (or at least common) mode of speech in their first language. They tend to use it, for a time at least, in almost every utterance. Used that way it may not be a grammatical error as such but it is certainly a usage error and they are certainly NOT intending it as apposition. So although your English teacher may not have given you the full picture (as I wouldn't with students below the Advanced Level), I said her instincts were right.
 
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My mother she is good.
First of all, I hadn't written, "My mother, she is good." I purposely hadn't written it that way. When z talked about "context," I could understand the comma adding a little context to it. I was referring to a sentence with a double subject that is the single subject of the sentence. Yes, z, when I had said "2 subjects," I realize that could have meant 2 separate subjects, using a conjunction. Perhaps I wasn't clear that the 2 subjects were acting as a single subject.

Apparently linguists don't consider this a grammatically wrong construction. Even some English teachers, such as Bob, don't. However, I think, though I am not sure, that most English teachers would consider it a grammatical error, and not just a "usage" error. And I agree that my sentence was not intending it as apposition.

To be honest, the sentence doesn't even make sense to me. I'd have to think twice about what was meant. Who is "she"? You've already mentioned the mother, so is "she" someone else? Did the person leave out an "and?" If so, why isn't it "are," instead of "is?" And so on.

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I was kidding about the conjunction, besides the sentence would in that case be "My mother and she are good" or rewritten to sound better "She and my mother are good". "My mother, she is good" seems the same thing as "my mother she is good". I admit, it's the sort of thing that seems okay in spoken English and probably would seem a little funny in written, formal English, but it's a matter of style, not grammar. (After all, my example from the preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America above lacks a comma.) How about "My brother—the younger one—he has been in New York twice"? Seems okay to me. Replace the em-dashes with commas, and it is still so. Leave out the punctuation and it seems poorly punctuated but grammatical.

It's not a question of what seems grammatical or not to a linguist but to a person who speaks and writes English on a daily basis. I run across ungrammatical sentences all the time: e.g., "Mr Obama and Mr McCain is the two US presidential candidates". Just seems like a minor problem with a plural subject, because there are two different men I am referring to, not agreeing with a singular form of the copula. In a sentence of the type, "My mother she is good" there is only one subject: i.e., my mother. Just as in my example above there is only one subject, my brother. I make a distinction between spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Most peevologists don't. They are not going to understand me or adapt my ways, and vice versa.

As for non-native speakers of English, I have some German friends, and I have noticed that as a cheat to get around remembering all those irregular past verbal forms, the oftentimes use the emphatic mood: e.g., instead of "I went to the theater last night", they'd say "I did go to the theater last night". Now there is nothing ungrammatical about the second sentence, but it does sound funny, like something a non-native speaker would say.

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My brother—the younger one—he has been in New York twice


Error or not, it is ungraceful and ugly. Without context, it doesn't add emphasis. I would never write such a thing, and Kalleh's objections are one reason why.

There are times when I would use a construction like "My mother, she" to emphasize. But the context would make clear why it was there, and when reading it aloud, the doubled subject would be emphasized. And a comma preceding it would be mandatory.

We the People, etc. isn't the same thing at all. "the People of the United States" explains or defines who "we" is. It doesn't emphasize. It is used in the same way as "the younger one".

What would you say to "The People of the United States, we in order to..."? Would you say that it is a good way to write?
 
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The People of the United States, we in order to..."?

Probably could use a comma after "we."


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In a sentence of the type, "My mother she is good" there is only one subject: i.e., my mother. Just as in my example above there is only one subject, my brother.
You know what I am talking about. Would the normal person absolutely understand that sentence? Perhaps 75% of the time, but I think about 25% of the time it would be misunderstood.
quote:
I make a distinction between spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Most peevologists don't. They are not going to understand me or adapt my ways, and vice versa.
I think I do, too. Clearly this isn't a punctuation or spelling error.
 
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But it is, in some cases, a punctuation error. If "she" is used to emphasize, it needs a comma.

"You make a pretty good mincemeat pie. My mother, SHE makes a good mincemeat pie."
 
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Kalleh, on your blog you say that my mother she is good is clearly not an example of apposition like we the people. Why are you so sure? I know you didn't intend it as an example of apposition, but it could be produced and understood as an apposition.
 
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In your profession, and you still believe the experts?
 
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My post before Valentine's inadvertently got deleted.

I don't know exactly what I said, but it was essentially that the experts have spoken, and I am not so arrogant that I won't listen to them. It must be that "my mother she is good" is a stylistic form, that I abhor, and not a grammatical error.

I do have to argue against it being an apposition, though. In z's link from Wikipedia, an apposition is where a noun describes another noun. In their example, they talk about "my friend Alice." That actually sounds fine to me because "Alice" does describe "my friend." However, in my example ("my mother she") we already know that "mother" is a "she," don't we (at least in most societies)?

One last note. This whole example "my mother she" did actually occur in my 4th grade class. One of my less than stellar classmates used to say it all the time, and the teacher made him wear 2 hats because he was using 2 subjects in his sentence. Little did the teacher know he was cleverly using an apposition. Wink [I suspect he didn't even know what a noun was, much less an apposition!]
 
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Originally posted by Kalleh:
I do have to argue against it being an apposition, though. In z's link from Wikipedia, an apposition is where a noun describes another noun. In their example, they talk about "my friend Alice." That actually sounds fine to me because "Alice" does describe "my friend." However, in my example ("my mother she") we already know that "mother" is a "she," at least in Most societies.


But my mother she is apposition according to that defintion. You have two nouns and one (she) is describing the other (my mother). The fact that we know my mother is a she might make it redundant, but it's still apposition. Just like the sentence my mother is a she is very redundant but still grammatical.

quote:

One last note. This whole example "my mother she" did actually occur in my 4th grade class. One of my less that stellar classmates used to say it all the time, and the teacher made him wear 2 hats because he was using 2 subjects in his sentence. Little did the teacher know he was cleverly using an apposition. Wink [I suspect he didn't even know what a noun was, much less apposition!]


But of course you don't need to have conscious knowledge of grammar in order to use it.

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Another two cents worth.

"My mother, she is good." could also be misinterpreted as "My mother" being used as a mild exclamation and "she" not refering to your mother at all.

Is the use of a pronoun to "describe" a noun really acceptable? Aren't they meant to substitute for a noun? "My mother she..." is essentially "My mother my mother...." That kind of redundancy without some form of punctuation doesn't seem correct.


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You have two nouns and one (she) is describing the other (my mother)

Not to me it ain't.
We, the People ... is apposition. My brother, the younger one ... is. My brother George ... or George, my brother... is.
But in That man he... etc. there is no description and nothing added.
 
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You shouldn't give in so quickly, Kalleh. None of the others of us around here ever do. You are in fine company.


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But in That man he... etc. there is no description and nothing added.

It seems to me this figure of speech is like "What it was was ....."


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Jespersen (in his Modern English Grammar and Analytic Syntax) classifies apposition, along with extraposition, predicatives of being, quasi-predicatives, compounds, and even relative clauses, as kinds of adjuncts, his neutral term for words in juxtaposition. Some examples: "I like my tea very hot", "the usual boy's weakness for women twice his age", "I met Lawrence, the novelist, not the Colonel". He calls "the rain it raineth every day", extraposition: "a word, or a group of words, is placed as it were, outside the sentence as if it had nothing to do there. This is often in speech marked by means of a pause, in writing by a comma or dash, though sometimes a semi-colon or full stop." He also discusses restrictive apposition: "the boys got a shilling each" and "we were none of us very happy". I'll take a look at Huddleston and Pullum's Grammar later and post anything relevant.

What it was was

Yes, and something similar happens when we discuss a word qua word: "The word step has four letters".


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Originally posted by Myth Jellies:
Is the use of a pronoun to "describe" a noun really acceptable? Aren't they meant to substitute for a noun?


I don't see how it's different from we the people.

quote:

"My mother she..." is essentially "My mother my mother...." That kind of redundancy without some form of punctuation doesn't seem correct.


Well I would punctuate it as my mother, she is good. But that's a punctuation error, not a grammatical one. This sentence can be grammatical if it is interpreted as apposition. Of course there are other interpretations.

quote:
Originally posted by Valentine:
Not to me it ain't.
We, the People ... is apposition. My brother, the younger one ... is. My brother George ... or George, my brother... is.
But in That man he... etc. there is no description and nothing added.


Descriptions don't have to add new information. A grammatical sentence can be completely meaningless and still be grammatical, for instance Chomsky's "colourless green ideas sleep furiously."

"Hummingbirds are birds" is a redundant and arguably pointless sentence, but it follows the rules of English grammar, with the second noun describing the first noun.
 
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You and I disagree on what a description is.
She does not describe my mother.

"Hey, look at those moths."
"Those aren't moths. They are hummingbirds.
Hummingbirds are birds."
 
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