17 Feb 2015

Tone versus mood

Tone and mood in literature are not the same things. They are often mixed up and at the beginning difficult to grasp.
Tone is the attitude of the author, narrator or speaker towards the characters and actions in a piece of writing. Probably, the best answer for how to find out the tone is to read the piece aloud to understand the emotions of the speaker.

Mood is what the reader feels while reading a book. The very simple example from the non-fiction.

Compare the two sentences:

Keep off the grass!
Please use the pathways, thank you.

These two sentences talk about the same thing but using different tones: first is very authoritarian and the second is friendly. What about the reader's moods?
As for me, the first make me angry for being treated like a child and for ordering me. The second, the friendly tone finds immediately obedient Jola, who looks around to be sure that she is on the pathway.

Well, when to come to the literature it is not always so obvious, as good authors tend to hide their voice behind their characters, and as we cannot hear the 'tone', we only may look at the language, the diction of the book to understand the author's attitude.





14 Feb 2015

Mastering pronouns

Mastering writing in English is not easy. On one hand, we need to employ the variety of sentence structures in our writing, and on the other - be in full control of the pieces which may be differently ordered. Also, it is important to be able to use different pronouns as subjects and objects to avoid repetition, when not wanted.
The English language is rich in pronouns: there are nine categories of them.
  1. Subject Pronouns - I, you, she - always function as subject of a sentence.
  2. Objective Pronouns - me, him, her, us, you, them - they are always the objects of the action: direct, indirect or the object of a preposition.
  3. Indefinite Pronouns - may function as subjects or objects: there are three subcategories of them: singular (someone, anybody, each, one, little, either), plural (many, others, several, few), both (all, any, some, none, more, most).
  4. Relative Pronouns - they introduce relative clauses: that, which, whom, whose 
  5. Demonstrative Pronouns - may function as subjects, objects and adjectives: this, that, these, those.
  6. Possessive Pronouns - function as subjects, objects and adjectives: my/mine, your/yours.
  7. Interrogative Pronouns - can replace subjects: who, what, which, whose
  8. Reflexive Pronouns - myself, yourself, ourselves - show subjects performing actions on themselves.
  9. Intensive Pronouns - myself, yourself, ourselves - modify/emphasize a noun or pronoun
Here in the passage below, I tried to use some indefinite pronouns as subjects/objects as a part of my written assessment, next step is to get rid of all linking verbs: all forms of 'be' and change them into the action verbs.

The elevator trip (1)
It was Sunday, one of those last lazy days of winter when Spring impatiently gave signs of its readiness to show its full beauty. Small, yellow crocuses on my mind that I saw just before on the green grass in the park, I peacefully strode toward the tube station, not really happy that I was leaving daylight for underground. Rather absent-mindedly, I took the step on the elevator, watching the other people that also absent-mindedly let the running monster take them into the mouth of its opening. Few with more energy walked down, passing by the lethargic majority: rushing in the UK is pretty unusual, especially on such a day. Then, the sudden commotion broke into the silent purr of the engines; someone was jumping down the elevator. Those who turned back their heads - and I did it, too - witnessed a young man skipping on the moving steps in a great hurry. Breathlessly, we gaped at his long legs storming down the moving stairs without missing a single step, and when the legs disappeared everyone was relieved - he did it and did not break a leg. Well done!


The elevator trip (2)
It was Sunday; one of those last lazy days of winter when Spring impatiently gives signs of its readiness to show its full beauty. Small, yellow crocuses on my mind that I saw just before on the grass in the park, I peacefully strode toward the tube station, not really happy that I was leaving daylight for underground. Rather absent-mindedly, I took the step into the elevator, glazing over the other people that also absent-mindedly let the running monster slowly swallow them down. Few, with more energy, walked down, passing by the lethargic majority: hurrying in the UK is pretty unusual, especially on such a day. Then, the sudden rush broke into the murmur of the engines; someone was dashing down the elevator. Those, who turned back their heads - and I did it, too - witnessed a young man galloping on the moving steps in a great hurry. Breathlessly, we gaped at his long legs storming down the moving stairs without missing a single step, and when the legs disappeared everyone was relieved - he did it and did not break a leg. Well done!

9 Feb 2015

MOOC

Have you ever heard about MOOC? This stands for Massive Open Online Courses accessible for free for everyone that has the Internet. Absolutely wonderful idea, as for me, and I may only wish to have more time to learn and learn. 
Here is one of them: Exploring English: Language and Culture prepared by the British Council, and here what I have learnt so far from it.

There are a few expression I have barely used: in the sense that, in a geographic sense, in terms of and their usage from the course:

This laptop is much more expensive than that one but in terms of performance and reliability, they’re quite similar.

English spelling can be difficult, in the sense that letters are not always pronounced the same way.

The event was successful in terms of visitor numbers, but we didn’t make a lot of money

Canada is bigger than Brazil in a geographical sense, but Canada’s population is smaller.

My post on technology, learning English and new expressions: 
I started to learn English as an adult, for my own pleasure. I was not very talented in languages, I could read at the intermediate level, but my listening and speaking skill were at the terribly low level. I bought the audio cassettes with the text written down that I could listen to and read many times. I did some English courses but without significant success; it was not until I discovered podcast and skype that my English really soared up. I think that learning English may be difficult in the sense that native speakers speak far too fast for the beginners. On the other hand, learning is much easier nowadays in a geographic sense: the Internet brought English to our home.

8 Feb 2015

Why do we need a colon?

Today I want to discuss one of the punctuation marks, as it happened that I used it incorrectly a few times, and I had thought that I was good at punctuation. Well, we learn the whole lives.

Colon is not often used, and often misused. It has three functions and introduces the list, quotation and idea.

Let's start with the list as it is its main function. There is one trap, and also my problem with this structure. We may use a colon when the clause preceding a colon is an independent clause. There is NO place for a colon between a verb and a noun following. 

There are four ingredients in this meal: sugar, pasta, basil and cheese. 

My best friends are John, Mary and Tom. (No colon)
I have a few best friends: John, Mary and Tom. 

There are my best friends: John, Mary and Tom. 

Before the text which is quoted we may use a colon or a comma, depends on the style.

My dad told me: 'Go and tidy your room!'
or
My dad told me, 'Go and tidy your room!'

The last but not the least function of a colon is to introduce an idea.

All these sentences are from the Bristol University, Faculty of Art, Improve your Writing:

I really can't stand cold rice pudding.
I really can't stand one thing: cold rice pudding.
There is one thing I really cannot stand: cold rice pudding

The one country I would really love to visit is Mexico.
There is one country I would really love to visit: Mexico.

You have no choice but to accept the referee's decision.
You have no choice: accept the referee's decision

The two things the company's success was founded on were service and value for money.
The company's success was founded on two things: service and value for money.

Climate change is the most serious threat to mankind's survival.
Mankind is facing the most serious threat to its survival: climate change.

Notice, how these sentences with colons highlight, strenghten and emphasise the ideas. It is a great tool in writing in English, and surely worth mastering.
Do not use it too often, but just when you want to introduce something important.

I do like writing: it's my life.
Romeo has only one true love in this life: Juliet.
Mankind is able to defeat many enemies but one: Mankind.

There is only one way to improve your writing: writing everyday.


7 Feb 2015

Repetition of phrases and clauses

All the figures of repetition from the previous post - 'Repetition of words' have the same names and meanings when we discuss phrases and clauses though there is a few new, specific to these longer structures, which I am going to present.

Isocolon (Bicolon, tricolon, tetracolon...) is the repetition of similar grammatical form, a kind of parallelism.
'Pity is the feeling which arrests the mind in the presence of whatsoever is grave and constant in human sufferings and unites it with the sufferer. Terror is the feeling which arrests the mind in the presence of whatsoever is grave and constant in human sufferings and unites it with the secret cause...'
(A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce)

The structure, grammar, meter and rhythm of these sentences are parallel; also there is the repetition of the ending with the slight differences in the beginnings of the sentences. 

Harley Davidson’s slogan (Bicolon)
'American by Birth. Rebel by Choice.'

I came. I saw. I bought. (Tricolon)

Symploce (repetition of the same phrases/words at the beginning - anaphora, and the repetition of different but the same words/phrases at the end of lines, sentences - epistrophe. Together they create symploce. 

'Against yourself you are calling him,
against the laws you are calling him,
against the democratic constitution you are calling him'
Aeschines

Chiasmus (Antimetabole) 
These two figures of repetition are not the same, but for me, and some others, I think, it is not so much important to be able to distinguish between them. In this figure, the structures are repeated but in the inverse order. I think that there is beauty in it, therefore, I like the word: chiasmus. :)
  • 'You stood up for America, now America must stand up for you.'
    Barack Obama – December 14, 2011.
  • When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
  • 'Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.'
    John F. Kennedy
  • 'Eat to live, not live to eat.'
    Socrates
  • 'I go where I please, and I please where I go.'
    Attributed to Duke Nukem
  • 'In America, you can always find a party. In Soviet Russia, Party always finds you!'
    Yakov Smirnoff
  • 'If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.'
You may find more information at Literary Devices and at Silvia Retorica - Figures of Repetition.  


4 Feb 2015

Figures of repetition - words

Repetition of a word or words is divided into several sub-categories, depending on a few things:
  • the position of the repeated word/words
  • changing in the meaning
  • changes in the a word itself.
In my humble opinion, unless you are not going to show off on the exam or in front of your teacher, there is no need to learn all names, but a few. It is more important to spot the repetition and the effect of it on the reader than get the right Greek name for it.

The same word/words may occur in a different position within a sentence, close to each other, in different phrases or in different sentences, or they may occur at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of sentence/sentences. There is a special name for a repetition of a word which occur at the beginning and then at the end of a sentence; as well as a name for another figure, when one word ends a sentence and starts another one.

The most important repetition of words in this group are:

Anaphora (repetition of the first word/words in lines, clauses or sentences);

Here, in the Churchill's speech we find the anaphora at the beginning of sentences and clauses:
'We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.'
Anaphora adds rhythm to the text, makes prose sounds more like a poem and poem sounds even more poetical. It appeals to emotions focusing on the particular element of the piece of writing.

Anadiplosis (repetition of the last word/phrase from the previous line, clause, or sentence at the beginning of the next);

From John Milton’s Lycidas
'For Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime,
Young Lycidas and hath not left his peer.'
 
Epistrophe (repetition of word/words at the end of sentences, clause or phrase);

From Shakespeare, The Tempest (4.1.108-109; 116-17)
'Hourly joys be still upon you!
Juno sings her blessings on you. [. . .]
Scarcity and want shall shun you,
Ceres' blessing so is on you.'

Polyptoton (repetition of words with the change in endings or forms);

Wisdom is not always wise, said the man wisely

Antanaclasis (repetition of the same words but with the change of the meaning);

From Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet 
'Two household, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona (where we lay our scene),
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hand unclean.'

In the first case, 'civil' refers to citizens of a city, whereas the second 'civil' to the behaviour, refine, sophisticated, polite. 

There is a special case of repetition, called polysyndeton when a conjunction is repeated many times. Predominantly it happens with and, but, or, nor. 
This figure of speech slows down the rhythm of the text and its actions. 

From  Ernest Hemingway, After the Storm
'I said, ‘Who killed him?’ and he said ‘I don’t know who killed him, but he’s dead all right,’ and it was dark and there was water standing in the street and no lights or windows broke and boats all up in the town and trees blown down and everything all blown and I got a skiff and went out and found my boat where I had her inside Mango Key and she was right only she was full of water.'


1 Feb 2015

Figures of repetition - sounds

When I started my GCSE course in English, little did I know about the figures of speech. In actuality, I knew some basics figures, which probably most of us learnt at high school.
In my pursuit of figures of speech, I discovered that there are literally tons of these figures (over 1300 on one of the linguistics websites) and for an average person it is neither sense nor fun to learn all by heart.
In a book, "Figures of Speech" by Arthur Quinn, I have discovered many strange Greek-sounding words for "operations" on the language, but also I have learnt that the best way to understand the figures of speech is to group them logically.

There is an interesting definition of a figure of speech:
An intended deviation from ordinary usage.

Thus, if we pretend that there is an ordinary sentence, what kind of operations can we execute on it?

It slightly sounds like mathematical stuff, but there are a few possibilities:
addition, omission, repetition, substitiution, arrangement.

I will set aside the other figures like metaphors and similes or personification for the time being; for me they seem to belong to the different group of the figures of rhetoric.

Now, the other logical attempt at grouping the figures of speech concerns a part of the sentence they may affect:
sounds, syllables, letters, words, phrases, clauses and ideas. Again, I would probably send ideas into the group of the figures of rhetoric.

I think that having these two groups in mind, it is much easier to try to discuss some of the ways of an intended deviation in a sentence.
For me, figures of repetitions are the most important, the most often used and worth studying in great detail.

Repetition of letters, syllables, sounds and some of their names (there are more):
alliteration, assonance, consonance, sibilant. 
Alliteration taken to the extreme:
'The powers of prunes are prudent to provide potent palliative prophylaxis of potential pooper problems, priming you for purging.' 
—Rob Bohnenberger

Alliteration is the repetition of the same sound at the beginning of two or more nearby words. In most cases, it is the repetition of the initial, stressed consonants. 

Assonance is the repetition of similar vowel sounds, preceded and followed by different consonants, in the stressed syllables of adjacent words.
The sergeant asked him to bomb the lawn with hotspots.

Consonance is the repetition of a consonance, rather at the end orin  middle of the word than in the beginning. Though some modern definitions treat Alliteration as the whole group and assonance/consonance as the two sub-groups. 
Mike likes his new bike.

Sibilant is a special case of alliteration when s, sh, z sounds are repeated, giving the hissing sound: 
There was nothing but the silence, stirring and seeping silently. 

I think it would be useful to add here another figure of sounds: onomatopoeia
Strictly not a figure of repetition, but somehow it repeats or imitates the sound it names.
There is a poem I have found on the Internet:

"Onomatopoeia every time I see ya
My senses tell me hubba
And I just can't disagree.
I get a feeling in my heart that I can't describe. . .

It's sort of whack, whir, wheeze, whine
Sputter, splat, squirt, scrape
Clink, clank, clunk, clatter
Crash, bang, beep, buzz
Ring, rip, roar, retch
Twang, toot, tinkle, thud
Pop, plop, plunk, pow
Snort, snuck, sniff, smack
Screech, splash, squish, squeak
Jingle, rattle, squeal, boing
Honk, hoot, hack, belch."

(Todd Rundgren, "Onomatopoeia")