(word order) the chicken(poetry) or the egg(prose)?

Andrew C Smith a.c.smith at juno.com
Fri Sep 4 05:42:23 EDT 1998

On Thu, 3 Sep 1998 18:21:22 -0400 "Bryan Rocine" <596547 at ican.net>

> I know poetry has the rhythm and the heavier concentration of the
>devices of parallelism, terracing, inclusio, etc.  But it has the 
>freer variation in use of verb forms.  It has the more abbreviated style
>colloquial speech.  Prose is the more "convention-driven" when it comes
>the arrangement and function of  clause types.  Poetry probably came
first, right?
>And then came prose as a new and special literary dialect.  To 
>the ancient's ear, might not the prose have been the more formal

A truly interesting idea, Bryan, but I can't agree. Compare the following

Latin - "high-brow" written litereary Latin - poetry or prose - has a
relatively free word order, which it can enjoy in part because it is
highly inflected. But "low-brow" written Latin ("laundry lists") and
spoken Latin (what evidence we have of it) has more rigid word order
rules. I shouldn't say "low brow" - I mean "everyday" conversations.

German - written German prose has more determing rules about word order
that German poetry, and spoken conversational German has still more
binding rules about word order than German prose.

Conclusion: things that "sound natural" are things which follow strict
rules about word order; things which "sound stilted or contrived" are
things which break the  rules of word order.


I saw him.
Him I saw.

I know that Coolidge was President.
That Coolidge was President, I know.

In the above pairs, both members are grammatically correct and allowable
in English. Yet only the first member of the pair "sounds natural".

SO THEREFORE, when you say that Hebrew prose has more strict conventions
than Hebrew prose, I would say that this is exactly what caused the
Hebrew prose to "sound natural" to the ancient Hebrew.

Andy Smith

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