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A grammatical and lexical study of T.S. Eliot's Little Gidding Chan, Sally Sui Man

Abstract

The present study investigates the grammatical and lexical aspects of Little Gidding in the perspective of the Firth-Halliday model and Halliday's functional theory of language. The primary purpose of the study is to bridge the gap between linguistic analysis and literary criticism; the secondary purpose is to evaluate the usefulness of the model as a stylistic tool. The Firth-Halliday model recognizes three scales and four categories in the description of the grammar of English. The three scales are rank (the hierarchical ordering of grammatical units from the most inclusive to the non-inclusive), delicacy (the scale of increasing detail of analysis); and exponence (the scale of exemplification). The four categories are unit, structure, class and system. Unit accounts for those stretches of language of varying extent or size which carry, recurrently, meaningful patterns. Structure is concerned with the nature of these patterns themselves. The category class arranges items in the language according to the way they operate in patterns, and the category, system accounts for those limited groups of possibilities from which choices are made at certain places in the patterns. In lexis, this model proposes two categories: collocation (the relation between one lexical item and the other with which it is associated), and lexical set (the grouping of items having the same range of collocations). The functional theory of language, on the other hand, can be broken down into three categories. The first is ideational (a function serving the expression of content); the second is interpersonal (language playing a communicative role); the third is textual (the function which establishes the relation between the text and the context). The practical analysis of Little Gidding is carried out with the above theoretical framework in the spirit of a linguist, while the selection of prominent features largely depends on the sensitivity and intuition of a literary critic. The grammar in the poem is analysed from sentence rank to word rank at the primary degree of delicacy, while the lexis is studied according to the notion of collocation and lexical set. From the grammatical study some prominent features in the poem emerge: first, the effect of balance at sentence, group and word rank; second, the preponderance of nominal groups; third, the deverbalization of the verbal groups. Two more features come to light as a result of the lexical study: the collocation, of the abstract item with the concrete and the element of polarity. Viewed from the general functions of language, the delay of the subject element in the clause structure and the abundance of adjuncts and complements are indicative of the poet's consciousness of the ideational component, while Eliot's shift of the pronoun you to we fulfils the interpersonal function. Textual function, however, is mainly achieved through the repetition of lexical items and the recurrence of the same lexical sets. Concerning the Firth-Halliday model, two problems merit consideration. They are the concept of rank and the lack of distinction between the function of a finite verb and a non-finite verb in a dependent clause. Yet the model's insistence that language should be described sytematically at all ranks does offer an auxiliary tool to practical criticism. In addition, its designation of all dependent clauses in traditional grammar as rankshifted clauses operating at group rank is an important step towards the functional relationship in the structure of language.

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