Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Use of Connectives and Transitions in Composition

Connected Brain Zones

§ 371. IV. The use of connectives. The words of connection and transition between clauses, members, and sentences, may be made, according to the skill or the awkwardness of the writer, sources of strength or of weakness.

It is always a source of weakness for two prepositions, having different antecedents, to be co-ordinated in connection with a common subsequent.

This mode of expression has been called "the splitting of particles;" a name not very applicable to it as it occurs in English construction. The proper name for it is the one implied in the italicized words above. The following is an example.

"Though personally unknown to, I have always been an admirer of, Mr. Calhoun."

The way to correct it is to complete the first clause, and let the last, if either, be elliptic; thus:

"Though personally unknown to Mr. Calhoun, I have always admired him," or "been an admirer of him."

It is proper to remark that the very construction here condemned, enjoys a kind of toleration in legal and formal documents. The object in such compositions is not strength but clearness. Perhaps a good deal may be conceded to the usages of a profession proverbial for its attachment to what is old and of long standing; but in all compositions that have any pretension to literary merit, this construction must be disallowed.

§ 372. The most enfeebling of all practices in writing is the constant repetition of the conjunction and, whether as a contextual or a member-joining particle. It is a fault into which young persons are peculiarly apt to fall. Sometimes in writing a narrative, when their minds are eagerly carrying on the thread of the story, they will indite a series of sentences, each commencing with the formula "and then," or "and so;" altogether unaware of the slovenly manner in which they are using language. To avoid this, let the pupil avail himself of all the expedients in his power for varying the expression, and avoid the necessity of using this one conjunction so often.

§ 373. With regard to the use of co-ordinating conjunctions in a series of terms or short clauses, there are two different figures of syntax, directly the opposite of each other, each of which may be so used as to contribute to Strength. They are called Asyndeton and Polysyndeton. In the one, the connecting conjunction is entirely omitted from a series of co-ordinates; in the other it is carefully repeated, either before every member of the series, or else between each pair. In the former, the object is to present a succession of spirited images; in the latter, the writer desires to make the mind of the reader dwell upon each successive thought, not passing from it until its full force is felt. But they both possess what is called tho cumulative power; heaping up before the mind a combination of thoughts that are intended powerfully to affect it. Witness the following examples, in which these figures are combined with the balanced construction, showing that St. Paul evidently delighted in such rhetorical devices.

"There is one body and one spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in you all." (Observe how the asyndeton and the polysyndeton are combined in the foregoing extract.)

"Charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."

"It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body."

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”

"For all things are yours; whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas; or the world or life or death; or things present, or things to come;—all are yours, and ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's."

§ 374. No single feature of style more plainly marks the mature mind, conversant with literature, than the judicious use of contextual connectives. These include Sot merely the conjunctions, but all those adverbs and adverbial phrases that indicate the relation of the sentences which they severally introduce, to the preceding context. All of them, including the conjunctions, have been subjected to a searching classification, which, however, is of no great practical value. To base upon such a classification a system of rules, would be to invest with difficulty a matter which would be more economically learned from extensive and varied reading.

SOURCE: John Mitchell Bonnell, A Manual of the Art of Prose Composition: For the Use of Colleges and Schools (1867).

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)

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