Прагматика, речевое воздействие

Metaplasm and Variant

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Full version of the article http://www.khazagerov.com/pragmatica/80-metaplasm-variant.html.

Printed version see: Russian Language in Description of Different Aspects. Information package of the conference Seventh International Vinogradov’s Readings. M. 2004. P. 17-35.

G. Khazagerov

Metaplasm and Variant

Task Assignment.

Contemporary understanding of the language norm is closely connected with the category of variant. Normative thinking is a selective thinking, the one choosing a variant from the number of variants provided by the language system. In this case variant is understood as something discrete. But modern communication situation objectively gives a researcher a task to broaden conceptual framework to understand the norm, and anyone who is interested in cultivation of language and communication faces the same task. This article reviews the category of "metaplasm" as broadening of conceptual framework, connected with the norm. In contrast to discrete category of variant metaplasm is understood as a continuous transformation. Term "metaplasm" was borrowed from Antic and Medieval grammars and rhetorics. Connection of metaplasm with a rhetoric norm brings us to the idea of use of this category for description of language norm under the conditions when the latter is clearly experiencing pressure of rhetoric thinking, developing in the logics of effectiveness.


Stylistic and Rhetoric Approach to Norm.

The variant-invariant approach in linguistics and mathematics of the 20th century is connected with the ideas of system and consistency. The system itself could be understood in two ways: in Saussure’s (mutual dependence of elements) and in cybernetic meaning, allowing considering the system teleologically: it either serves something (controlled system), or it has a purpose inside (homeostat, adaptive system). Functional approach allowing participants of Prague Linguistic Circle to formulate the idea of "flexible stability" of language, and allowing today to speak about ecology of language corresponds to such an understanding of the system in linguistics. Thus, the centre of gravity is shifted from the "systematic – asystematic" opposition to the "constructive – destructive" opposition.

However, the concept of the variant is older than that one of the system. Its roots could be founded in French encyclopaedists being interested in the problem of synonymy. Synonymic thinking underlies modern stylistics going back to the ideas of Charles Bally. G.O. Vinokur wrote in 1929: "Stylistics studies the use of that formation of "established in that society customs and norms due to which a well-known selection is performed from the available means of the language, different for various conditions of language communication".

Thus, the principle of variants selection from the synonymic row appearing as the result of normalization efforts and deepened by the understanding of the system first in Saussure’s and then in "Prague" concept, underlie the understanding of norm. But is it the only way of norm description and setting?

Rhetorical thinking, in contrast with stylistic thinking, supports another category. Its roots are closely connected with antique understanding of anomaly and analogy, and are founded in the category of metaplasm borrowed from rhetoric by medieval grammars which included a special chapter De methaplasmo. Grammar and rhetoric term "metaplasm" etymologically goes back to the Greek verb μεταπλάσσω - “to change, transform, reform”. Compare the noun itself πλάσμα, having the meanings “myth”, “plastic image”, “counterfeit”. Metaplasm is not a ready variant, but is the result of some “plastic” work, transformation which the word undergoes. Different phonetic phenomena were a part of the metaplasms’ group in the term’s narrowed interpretation. But in a broadened interpretation the same phenomena were projected to other levels of the language up to the syntactical one. The most ancient classification of verbal figures dividing them into figures of increase, decrease and changing goes back to elementary transformations which a word could undergo (accretion, elision, metathesis).

It is easy to notice that both anomaly and metaplasm do not quite fit the idea of variant, since the latter rests on the category of discreteness. But there is another thought in the metaplam’s idea – the thought of transformation of a correct form into a new one, not limited by a closed list. As a matter of principle there could be a whole continuum of such forms. Thus, iconicly spreading the vowel in the word «далеко», one could write «далеко-о», and «далеко-о-о-о», etc.

Trope, according to Tryphon, the first author who studied it specifically, is a deviation from the regular speech, which he named "cyriology". But Tryphon’s "tropes" are not confined to contemporary understanding of word use in a figurative meaning either by definition or by nomenclature structure. Here we have another opinion of a familiar phenomenon, an opinion which changes (broadens) the scale of the phenomenon itself. Rhetoric figure was also connected with the "deviation" from the usual style. Deviation does not suggest a list of discrete opportunities. That’s why the lists of figures and tropes in antique classifications were principally of an open nature.

Determining metaplasm, Latin authors developed a triad: "usual" (cyriology) – "metaplasm-barbarism" – "metaplasm’figure". In neorhetoric usual speech was perceived as the norm, or "a zero variant", "barbarism" – as a mistake, deviation from the norm, and figure – as an intentional, voluntary deviation from the norm determining a new norm. Such an understanding of rhetoric is "fudged" in favour of the contemporary scientific paradigm. Difference of ancient and contemporary view of anomaly is substantial. Firstly, metaplasm suggested not a discrete, but a continual approach to anomaly, where another way of anomaly "quantization" originated from, which we will dwell upon further. Secondly, "a zero variant" could be indicated only for some figures. The idea of "a zero variant" is deeply modern, it is no coincidence that etymologically the term itself is related both to "zero writing" of post-structuralists, and "a zero sign" of structuralists. Thirdly, "barbarism" was not necessarily associated with borrowing or use of actual non-reputable variants, encountered in the speech of "barbarians". We can speak just of a certain virtually barbarian language, i.e. simply of the idea of corruption as it is, the way it is described, for example, in medieval definition by Flavius Charisius, where barbarism is interpreted as a defect of prosaic speech, called, however, metaplasm by poets.

But how did antique and medieval scientists limit the continuum of possible deviations? Where did the "second form" (figure) come from in non-discrete variety of all possible deviances?

We will first note that the figure itself differed from a mistake only by being based on a precedent. Such thoughts had been already expressed by Quintilianus. In ancient rhetoric such precedents were called paradigms and were cited for description of this or that figure. Usage was assigned, though not every usage, but so called usage of the second order. The logic of antique thinkers was approximately the following: interrogative form of speech is used incorrectly in a rhetoric question, but since distinguished and prominent people used a rhetoric question, it could be considered a figure. Anomaly and analogy were combined in the figure.

Of course, it made the list of figures open or, at least, variable. It is notable, that Quintilianus, who, unlike Cicero, gave a detailed description of figures of different types, concludes it with the following words: "I have also met authors who added to this what the Greeks call diaskena or circumstantiality, apogoresis – prohibition, pardiegpesis – confirmation from outside... But since all of them are viewed as figures, there still could be others, slipping away from me, or, maybe, there could appear new ones, artificially created, but they will still be of the same nature, the same sort, which I have already spoken of". Nevertheless, notwithstanding such a "well-rounded" conclusion to the chapter about figures made by such a competent author as Marc Fabius Quintilianus, separation of some marked structures, their naming and assignment through precedent-related examples in the practical sense was a rather good way of quantization of the metaplasm-figures space. Everything said about figures is related to tropes as well, the only difference being in the fact that today’s classification of tropes as motivated signs, eventually narrowing them down to two types, is even farther from the ancient understandings than our ideas of the figure.

In its classical version the teaching of tropes and figures appears as the teaching about anomalies, culturally established in precedent-related texts. Meanwhile, empirically singled out tropes and figures in their majority were motivated signs of iconic and index type. Viewing of figures in a new scientific paradigm is based exactly on this fact. Figures not related to motivated signs have moved to the category of marginal phenomena.

Efforts of contemporary rhetoric were a huge breakthrough in understanding of tropes and figures after a many-centuries history of classifications, being mostly of a philological, rather than a linguistic interest to us. However, speaking about rhetoric forms one has to go back to the old explanation of figures as anomalies. New classifications lie in an absolutely different plane.

Demand for metaplasms, as a category useful for understanding of contemporary communicative situation, is dictated by three reasons: firstly, loosening of norm and different sense of the "norm" category itself; secondly, a new mass media role as an institute of literal language norm creation; thirdly, specific weight of paralinguistic component in contemporary representative communication.

Contemporary language standard (standard of the literary language) is drifting towards the rhetoric norm. This is probably related to peculiarities of existence of the postmodernity epoch society. This process is most distinctively determined by the loss of the belletristic literature authority and norm dictatorship of the mass media. Solving the problem of effectiveness in momentary, contextually stipulated and weakly typified situations, mass media is not able to think of general issues of literary language cultivation as a polifunctional language able to distinguish delicate sense and style nuances. And the variety of communication situations justifying occasional use could not be counted, just like the system of functional styles. It should also be taken into consideration that realistic belletristic literature set the examples of day-to-day conversation (what M. Bahtin called the original genres), meanwhile even oral mass media do not have such a variety of genres. On the other hand, they dispose of their own original genres, non-relevant to day-to-day communication: neither commercials, nor speech conduct of a showman in a talk-show have analogy in day-to-day conversation. Following such examples results in speech conduct norms shifting.

Apparently, a linguist-normaliser should not follow the rhetoric norm. Just like a medieval grammar he should fight for language cultivation on two fronts. Where it is possible he should protect the literary norm relying on the category of variant and classical literature texts. Where it is not possible, he should stand for consolidation of the rhetoric norm with all the ensuing consequences: deviation naming, paradigm indication (in the rhetoric sense of the word), deviation inclusion into the school readers. Something like this is being done with logical mistakes. Thus, Chekhov’s phrase "It can’t be true because it can never be true" in Russian usually describes one of logical mistakes (or deliberate tricks) - peticio princpii.



Rhetoric norm cultivates language through precedent-related use, naming it and fixing it in the minds of native speakers. This is the way of readers and competent statements – the way of fixed examples, not formulated rules. The notion of metaplasm, not the one of variant, underlies it. This is the way of a precedent-related right, not of a usual one.