Sunday, 8 March 2009

hypotaxis, parataxis, syntaxis

Hypotaxis - The arrangement of statements in a sentence to compose an argument or complete a picture. This can range from grouping together subordinate statements to form a whole with bridging clauses used to define sequence (e.g. the dog played with the ball after it left the pond) or pre-modifying a statement with another word without using commas to do so (e.g. flameproof body armour).

One of the best-known examples of hypotaxis is the Greek phrase "Molon labe!" ("come and take them!") reported to be used by Leonidas to the Persians at Thermopylae and now the motto of the Greek Army. Unfortunately it doesn't reveal itself in English.

Parataxis - This places concepts or sentences side-by-side without co-ordination or conjunction allowing a reader or listener to make their own connections or emphasis. Each concept is a bead of thought, a discrete item for consideration.

Dickens uses this in the Pickwick Papers (Mr. Jingle's speech in chapter 2) as does Barack Obama in his inaugural address to the delight of many literary bloggers. The classic examples of parataxis have a thread running through them, making a necklace of thoughts.

Some artists also define parataxis as a collection of items without hierarchy, in this instance a bunch of beads where the observer provides their own thread, sees a mosaic or just a mashup of concepts like a Wordle cloud.

Syntaxis - This deals with orderly arrangement of words into sentences and finding patterns formed by doing so. The use of patterns for emphasis, contrast and sometimes sheer aesthetic can drive literary types to distraction.

One of the best example of syntaxis in action is Milton's Paradise Lost. Syntaxis is contracted to syntax by those intimidated by the word's Grecian roots and as a consequence is cursed by computer programmers all over the world trying to put their code in order.

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