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Parataxis (from Greek παράταξις "act of placing side by side", from παρα para "beside" + τάξις táxis "arrangement") is a literary technique, in writing or speaking, that favors short, simple sentences, without conjunctions or with the use of coordinating, but not with subordinating conjunctions. It contrasts with syntaxis and hypotaxis.
It is also used to describe a technique in poetry in which two images or fragments, usually starkly dissimilar images or fragments, are juxtaposed without a clear connection. Readers are then left to make their own connections implied by the paratactic syntax. Ezra Pound, in his adaptation of Chinese and Japanese poetry, made the stark juxtaposition of images an important part of English-language poetry.
Origin of the term
Edward Parmelee Morris wrote in 1901 that the term was introduced into linguistics by Friedrich Thiersch in his Greek Grammar (1831). The term has remained unchanged, but the concept of parataxis has expanded.
Origin of paratactic style
The term "parataxis" is a modern invention, but the paratactic style itself goes back to the classical age. Parataxis distinguished itself as a rhetoric style during the fourth and fifth century B.C. because of the development of periodic methods used by orators. Ancient peoples believed these rhetorical styles originated in fifth century Sicily, where Corax and Tisias wrote books about new public speaking styles. It is believed these new methods were brought to Athens in 427 B.C. by Gorgias. After Gorgias' visit to Athens, numerous handbooks were written about new styles of rhetoric. These handbooks have not survived the years, but it is known that they classified rhetoric styles in these books, so it is assumed that the distinction between periodic syntax and more traditional techniques were made.
In Rhetoric, Aristotle makes the earliest formal distinction between periodic syntax and older methods. He distinguishes between "lexis eiromene" and "lexis katestrammene". "Eiromene" means "to fasten together in rows" or "to string". Aristotle relates the term to the connection of clauses in a statements. Statements along these lines are referred to as unlimited, because the people listening to the speaker do not know how the sentence will end based on its beginning. Aristotle's section in his book regarding these styles of statements is seen today as the description of parataxis and is used to distinguish between Greek prose and periodic and paratactic techniques. Aristotle mentions that this style of writing was used by everyone at a time, but hardly ever by anyone during his own time.
Parataxis can most simply be described as and compared to the way children speak. They speak their ideas as they come to them, one after the other, without logically connecting the ideas together. Parataxis may use commas, semi-colons, and periods to force juxtaposition, but it can also replace these punctuation marks with "and" to seamlessly string the speech or written piece together and present the words as each being equally important. Works utilizing parataxis as a style may emit a staccato rhythm. This can result in phrases with words that don't seem to go together at all. An example of this is Julius Caesar's phrase "Veni, vidi, vici" or, "I came, I saw, I conquered".
Parataxis can also be a pile of fast-moving ideas with a lack of or insistent rhythm. An example of this form of parataxis comes from the Bible. It says, "And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light."
Parataxis may be considered from three points of view:
- the psychological aspect,
- the linguistic means to express the paratactic relation,
- and the resulting sentence structure.
The underlying idea is that in a connected discourse, complete independence among the consecutive sentences is very rare. This observation is captured in the expression "train of thought". Consider the following:
- The sun was shining brightly. We went for a walk.
- The sun was shining brightly; we went for a walk.
- The sun was shining brightly, and we went for a walk.
- The sun was shining brightly, so we went for a walk.
In the first example, the two sentences are independent expressions, while in the last example they are dependent. However, the connection of thought in the first examples is just as real as in the last ones, where it is explicitly expressed via the syntax of subordination.
In spoken language, this continuance from sentence to sentence is supported by intonation and timing (rhythm, pause). While details may differ among different languages and cultures, generally similar musicality and shortness of pauses indicate the continuation, while the change of tone and longer pause generally indicate the transition to another connected group of ideas.
In storytelling, storytellers utilize paratactic or syntactic styles. Parataxis is common among oral storytellers. When telling a story orally, there are many inconsistencies because of the lack of a written-down, word-for-word, multiply-checked draft. However, audiences do not set out to compare the stories word for word and are only interested in the main points of the story.
Parataxis versus hypotaxis
Parataxis roughly translates to "arranging side by side", while hypotaxis translates to "arranging under". Parataxis omits subordinating conjunctions while hypotaxis utilizes them such as the terms "when", "although", and "after". Parataxis juxtaposes ideas and thoughts, while hypotaxis subordinates ideas to one another and can show both juxtaposition and transition. Because of this, hypotaxis can show relationships of cause and effect, chronology, and comparison.
Recent studies show that the Zamucoan languages are characterized by a rare syntactic configuration which is called para-hypotaxis, where coordination and subordination are used simultaneously to connect clauses (Bertinetto & Ciucci 2012).
"Come along, then," said he of the green coat, lugging Mr. Pickwick after him by main force, and talking the whole way. "Here, No. 924, take your fare, and take yourself off—respectable gentleman—know him well—none of your nonsense—this way, sir—where's your friends?—all a mistake, I see—never mind—accidents will happen—best regulated families—never say die—down upon your luck—Pull him UP—Put that in his pipe—like the flavour—damned rascals." And with a lengthened string of similar broken sentences, delivered with extraordinary volubility, the stranger led the way to the traveller's waiting-room, whither he was closely followed by Mr. Pickwick and his disciples.
Samuel Beckett's opening to his monologue "Not I" is another example.
Mouth: .... out ... into this world ... this world ... tiny little thing ... before its time ... in a godfor– ... what? .. girl? .. yes ... tiny little girl ... into this ... out into this ... before her time ... godforsaken hole called ... called ... no matter ... parents unknown ... unheard of ... he having vanished ... thin air ... no sooner buttoned up his breeches ... she similarly ... eight months later ... almost to the tick ... so no love ... spared that ... no love such as normally vented on the ... speechless infant ... in the home ... no ... nor indeed for that matter any of any kind ... no love of any kind ... at any subsequent stage ...
Homer's Iliad also exemplifies paratactic use. "So he spoke praying, and Phoebus Apollo heard him, and he came down from the peaks of Olympus, angered at heart holding his bow on his shoulders and the covered quiver. And the arrows clashed on the shoulders of the angered god leaping; and he came like the night then sat apart from the ships and shot an arrow; and terrible was the clash from the silver bow."
In What Is Called Thinking?, Martin Heidegger addresses the paratactic nature of Classical Greek texts. Through analyzing a fragment from Parmenides (typically translated "One should both say and think that Being is") Heidegger argues that modern syntactic translations of paratactic Greek texts often leave the meaning obscured. He suggests multiple translations of the fragment that may more closely resemble the paratactic Greek original. These include "needful : the saying also thinking too : being : to be," and "Useful is the letting lie before us, the taking-to-heart, too: beings in Being." Heidegger points to a modern linguistic bias that places paratactic language beneath syntactic language; paratactic language is often viewed as "child-like" or "primitive". He argues that a paratactic sentence a child might say, such as "dog, woof-woof, bad" is not inherently less meaningful than its syntactic equivalent, like "dogs bark and can be dangerous."
The term parataxis has also been appropriated by some[who?] cultural theorists to describe certain works of art or "cultural texts" in which a series of scenes or elements are presented side by side in no particular order or hierarchy. Examples might range from the collages of the dadaists and Robert Rauschenberg to many contemporary music videos. The traditional polyptych constitutes another example.
- Fish, Stanley (2011), How to Write a Sentence, p. 62, ISBN 978-0-06-184054-8
- Butler, Christoper (2003), Structure and Function: A Guide to Three Major Structural-Functional Theories. Part 2: From clause to discourse and beyond, Studies in Language, 64, John Benjamins Publishing Company, pp. 260–261, doi:10.1075/slcs.64, ISBN 9781588113580
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- Bertinetto, Pier Marco (2009). Ayoreo (Zamuco). A grammatical sketch. Quaderni del laboratorio di Linguistica 8 n.s. (Online version: <http://linguistica.sns.it/QLL/QLL09.htm>).
- Heidegger, Martin (1968). What is called thinking?. Translated by Gray, J. Glenn. New York: HarperPerennial. pp. 182–184. ISBN 0-06-090528-X. OCLC 273314.