Re: discourse initial 'and' & verse text

From: Ronnie Sim (
Date: Thu Apr 03 2003 - 15:56:30 GMT

  • Next message: John Constable: "Re: discourse initial 'and' & verse text"

    discourse initial 'and' & verse textHaving thought about John's explanation in terms of English metrics, I would reject it, at least for the English hymn I quoted!

    1. There would be other ways of preserving the metrics--- 'O' is the most obvious in the context of a hymn; but even 'O' pushes the line towards an exclamatory reading.

    2. The melody associated with this hymn since the beginning strikingly gives the initial 'And...' a beat.

    3. Charles Wesley had a facility with words that would make an explanation like John's --- 'how to begin the first sentence of an iambic verse' no problem to him (Charles).

    4. Initial 'and' evokes a range of weaker implicatures. What these are was the original enquiry.



      ----- Original Message -----
      From: John Constable
      Sent: Sunday, March 16, 2003 12:27 AM
      Subject: discourse initial 'and' & verse text

      It's curious that the instances of discourse initial 'and' chosen by J. L. Speranza and by Ronnie Sim should both be from verse text:

      At 8:04 am -0500 14/3/03, wrote:
        There is this famous song (refrain),

            "And when I told them
            How beautiful you were --
            they didn't believe me..."

      At 4:16 pm +0300 15/3/03, Ronnie Sim wrote:
        And there is a very well-known Christian hymn which starts off
        "And can it be that I should gain ..... " It is Charles Wesley's -- read the rest for yourself. Inspite of what many diverse authorities would say, initial and occurs!

      A discourse initial 'and' is a convenient solution to a well-known problem posed in English metrics, namely how to begin the first sentence of an iambic verse text, or the first line of a fresh section or paragraph, with an unstressed syllable. The normal solutions to this include, amongst others, the use of superfluous exclamations ('Oh'), the use of the structure /xx/ (where / = a stressed syllable, and x = an unstressed syllable), and sometimes a discourse initial 'And'. I haven't time to check this, but I would imagine this latter device was surprisingly common in verse drama. The use of articles is also possible, but, as anyone who has written verse will know, this look like clumsy beginner's device at the beginning of the poem, and can have an awkward disjunctive effect when used to begin a new verse paragraph. 'And' is very useful to the verse writer in a tight corner.

      In summary, my suggestion would be that in metrical texts a discourse initial 'and' is almost invariably of little pragmatic importance. It's as likely to be a metrical convenience as anything.

      Moreover, it seems to me that this principle should be extended as a general caveat applying to all attempts to use metrical texts as evidence in pragmatics. Metrical texts are certainly interesting from a pragmatic perspective, the reader's perspective, but they are so formally distorted as to be most misleading with regard to authorial communicative intent. Linguists and literary scholars who use metrical compositions as a source of linguistic examples should proceed only with extreme caution; these are significantly abnormal text forms.

      John Constable

      College Lecturer in Literary Theory and English
      Magdalene College,


      Home Phone: 01728 663390

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