As promised, a post about grammar is finally here! (I know, you were all waiting for it with bated breath, right? 😉 )
Anyway, I’m sure you’ve all read posts about how grammar is important—very true, given that you’ll be hard-pressed to get an editor to even look at your work if it’s full of comma splices, misplaced modifiers, and dangling participles.
But there’s another, equally important side of grammar that no one really pays attention to: discourse grammar.
“Normal” grammar looks at the structure of sentences and investigates how words and clauses fit together—discourse grammar does that, too, though such investigations are handled a little differently. However, one thing grammar discourse does that “normal” grammar doesn’t is that it looks not only at how words come together to form sentences, but how sentences form paragraphs, scenes, chapters, whole books.
It goes from the micro-level to the macro-level, and looks at how grammar functions in all levels of discourse.
When discourse grammar focuses on the micro-level, it takes a deeper look at the relationship between parts of speech and how they function in context.
The Predication, According to Mark Newson
Take the simple sentence “Peter chased Mary.” The two individuals, Peter and Mary, hold a particular relationship in this given sentence, or “predication.” They function as the nouns of the sentence (the subject and the direct object), and are labeled “arguments” in discourse grammar. The word “chased,” functioning as a verb, is instead called a “predicate.”
Discourse grammar breaks down “arguments” even further, labeling the one who deliberately performs an action the “agent,” and the one who experiences such an action the “patient” (Newson 15).
But, let’s be honest, this part of discourse grammar is a little boring (and a little hard to wrap our heads around, given that we already have the terms “noun” and “verb” and would much prefer to stick with them).
The part of discourse grammar that I find the most fascinating is what Robert E. Longacre terms “Monologue Discourse,” or more specifically, “plot” and “peak” (The Grammar of Discourse 33).
As the word “plot” suggests, this aspect of discourse grammar takes a look at something we’re probably all familiar with: the plot diagram. Instead of just focusing on the narrative elements of plot—such as, exposition is where you’re getting introduced to the story, and rising action is where things start to get interesting—monologue discourse takes a look at how plot reveals itself in the grammar of a given narrative.
In case the title of this post wasn’t a dead giveaway, we’re about to take a look at Patrick Rothfuss’ fantasy novel The Name of the Wind to see this monologue discourse in action. Fair warning: the rest of this post has basically been stolen from a paper I wrote in grad school, so I’ll apologize ahead of time if it sounds overly “academic.” 😀
The Name of the Wind: Highly Fantastical, but not Cliché
Before we delve deep into a grammatical analysis of this book, you’ll probably need a bit of background about the novel—and its author.
Similarities abound between J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous The Lord of the Rings and Rothfuss’ first novel. Comparable to the rise of power demonstrated by Tolkien’s Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, Kvothe—the main character of The Name of the Wind—starts from the humble beginnings of the son of traveling troupe players to become a powerful magician, an expert swordsman, and a killer of kings.
Although Tolkien’s characters are remarkably complex, flawed human beings, for the most part the main actors all play some larger-than-life role in the narrative, something that Rothfuss attempts to move away from.
Rothfuss’ Kvothe seems to have no such airs of grandeur—orphaned at the age of twelve by the intervention of a mysterious, supernatural evil known only as the “Chandrian,” Kvothe resorts to thievery and deceit in order to survive the crowded streets of Tarbean (83, 98).
According to Rothfuss himself in an interview with Publishers Weekly, he “wanted to avoid most of the fantasy clichés and focus on something simpler and more personal: the story of a man’s life” (“Exploring the Edge of the Fantasy Map”).
Layers Upon Layers
Rothfuss definitely succeeds in creating a personalized account centered on the life of one man, and he does so by fashioning a narrative just as complex as The Lord of the Rings. For one thing, The Name of the Wind includes several layers of stories within stories—embedded narratives—that will make for very interesting discussions on plot.
But you’ll just have to wait till my next post to see for yourselves. 😉
Brief Works Cited
(Told you I took this from an academic paper!)
- Allen, Paul Goat. “Exploring the Edge of the Fantasy Map: PW Talks with Patrick Rothfuss.” Publishers Weekly 258.5 (2011): n. pag. ProQuest. Web. 3 Dec. 2013.
- Longacre, Robert E. The Grammar of Discourse. 2nd ed. New York: Plenum, 1996. Print.
- Newson, Mark. Basic English Grammar with Exercises. N.d. Digital file. 6 Nov. 2013.
- Rothfuss, Patrick. The Name of the Wind. New York: Penguin, 2007. Print.