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Paradigmatic and Syntagmatic Elaboration, and Middle English Poetic Style There are many obvious differences in types of discourse within the corpus of Middle English poetry. Most of these differences are formal and largely superficial, but others are more deeply laid within language itself and the way language is used. A comparison of some aspects of discourse in Pearl with Chaucer's Parlement of Foules reveals much about the essential differences between these poems, differences which may be symptomatic of basic differences between the Chaucerian and alliterative traditions. M y argument here is that Pearl, like other poems in the alliterative tradition, weights the paradigmatic axis of discourse more heavily than the syntagmatic, whereas the Parlement favours a weighted syntagmatic axis. These tendencies have ramifications for various aspects of the texts: metrically, the Pearl-poet tends to think in verse-lines, whereas Chaucer shows a greater tendency toward noncongruence of syntactic and metrical units; lexically, Pearl employs and proliferates an exclusively poetic lexicon, whereas Chaucer operates much more within the general lexicon; and there are differing assumptions about the relationship between sign and signification, so that in Pearl multiple significations for one sign are organized intofigurativerelationships (there are clear signifier-signified links, but the signified becomes another signifier pointing to a further signified lying behind it), whereas multiple significations in Chaucer are more likely to reflect semantic diversity as the signifiers recur along the syntagmatic axis. I A n examination of the relationship between syntax and verse-form in the two poems quickly reveals a basic difference in the way the poets structure language. From the frequency and disposition of run-on lines, it can be seen that Chaucer is apt to think in sentences, and to handle line-unitsflexibly,whereas the Pearl-poet composes in discrete one-line and two-line units. In a sample of 624 lines from Pearl (1-324, 601-780, 1093-1212) it was found that 124 are run-on; of 400 tines from the Parlement (1-105, 120-315, 603-99), 83 are runon . Because both poets are disinclined to over-run the stanza-end, and Chaucer's stanza is much shorter, the relative frequencies are most accurately calculated by excluding the final line of each stanza. Chaucer is willing to over-run the stanza-end, as in line 280, but this is rare (only one example in the Parlement). There is no example in Pearl. From the remaining lines, it emerges that 21.7% of Pearl's lines run on, as compared to 24.3% of Chaucer's. In themselves the numbers are not very informative: what is significant is their weight and disposition. 8 5 % of the lines interpreted as run-on in the Pearl sample are 24 /. Stephens followed by a line beginning with a new clause (adjectival, adverbial, non-finite infinitive clause, and so on), and are thus only weakly enjambed; many of the others involve such structures as an adverbial adjunct or a short relative clause ending one line or beginning the next - that is, structures which promote some element of pause. Few are strongly enjambed.1 In contrast only 5 4 % of Chaucer's run-on lines occur at a clause juncture. As important as the differences in strength of enjambment is the difference in the way the two poets distribute their enjambments. Chaucer's favoured places for enjambment are, respectively, tines 1 (21 times), 5 (18 times), 6 (14times)and 4 (13 times); lines 2 and 3 are enjambed seven and ninetimes;line 7 the once. This is a ratio of 2.4 odd lines to every even line. In Pearl, however, the enjambment is so distributed that it occurs on odd lines 9 2 % of the time (a ratio of 13.7 : 1), so the poet clearly thinks of the even lines as marking syntagmatic breaks. In the sample, moreover, the discreteness of the quatrain is preserved, since of the nine even run-on linesfiveare the second line of their respective stanzas (122, 158, 626, 710, 722), three are the sixth (198, 1094, 1110), and only one is the eighth (1172). This tendency to compose in terms of the line, the line-pair, and the quatrain is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. 23-35
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-03
Open Access
No
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