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 Ling 131: Language & Style

Topic 3 (session A) - Patterns, Deviations, Style and Meaning > Deviation: Literary examples > Task C

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Session Overview
Overview of foregrounding, deviation and parallelism
Deviation: non - literary examples
Deviation: literary examples
Parallelism: non-literary examples
Parallelism: literary examples
Useful Links

Deviation for Foregrounding Purposes - Literary examples

Task C - 'A Grief Ago'

Interestingly, the Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas wrote a poem which has a title which breaks both of the rules we noticed on the last page, and so is doubly foregrounded - it is grammatically and semantically deviant at the same time. The poem is called 'A Grief Ago', a phrase which also turns up in the poem itself.

How exactly is 'a grief ago' deviant? What can you infer about the meaning of the phrase from the character of the deviations?


'Grief' is an uncountable noun. It is grammatically odd to say things like *'I had three griefs last week'. Semantically the choice is also odd: 'grief' is not a TIME word, but an EMOTION word.

If we compare carefully Thomas's choice to the normal paradigm, the set of choices which are normal, we can see how the word 'grief' takes on new meaning in this linguistic context. First of all, the semantic oddity suggests that in this poem time is being measured in terms of emotion. And, indeed, one of the things we could say of Thomas here is that he has captured an abiding fact about the nature of how human beings perceive the world. Although time ticks on with metronomic regularity, each second being exactly equal to the preceding second, our perception of time does vary according to how we feel. So, we often say that when we are happy time goes fast, and that when we are sad time goes slowly.

If you want to think more about this phrase, it is also discussed on pages 29-31 of Geoffrey Leech's A Linguistic Guide to English Poetry.

We also found a link to the BBC's biography page for Dylan Thomas that you may find interesting.


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