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 Ling 131: Language & Style

Topic 2 (session A) - Being creative with words and phrases > Changing word class - functional conversion > Task B

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Session Overview
(Semi) Automatic poetry
Introducing word classes
More on word classes
Manipulating word classes
Changing word class - affixation
Changing word class - functional conversion
New words for old
Word class problems
Word class checklist
Useful Links
Grammar Website

Word class changes without affixation - functional conversion

Task B - ‘The Windhover’ Gerard Manley Hopkins

In his poem 'The Windhover' Gerard Manley Hopkins describes with admiration the extraordinary abilities of the bird in flight. Why is the use of the word 'achieve' so striking in line 8 of the extract below and what effects does it have?

headphonesWe also have an audio version of the poem.
(note: there is a slight error in the audio version line 4, the written version is correct)

To Christ our Lord

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing

In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, - the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

(Gerard Manley Hopkins, 'The Windhover')

Here Hopkins takes the verb achieve and uses it as a noun, in spite of the fact that English already has a noun, 'achievement' derived from that verb. It is obvious that the word is a noun here because of (i) the preceding definite article, (ii) the 'of' apparently beginning a post-modifying prepositional phrase, and (iii) the grammatical parallel with 'mastery'. Why does Hopkins bother to make up a new noun when the language has already provided one for him? He is describing the flight of the windhover in all its miraculous splendour. By using the word 'achieve' as a noun instead of a verb he foregrounds the extent of the achievement of the bird in flight and also increases the sense of physical energy which we associate with the windhover.

So far, we have looked at word class changes in small examples. You are now ready to explore such usages, and their effects in whole poems.


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