Linguistic Approaches to Poetry
  • ISSN 0774-5141
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9676
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Corpora show that people are less original in using language than is generally believed. We routinely employ an immense repertoire of semi-preconstructed phrases, though we also adapt them: creative extensions and adaptations of institutionalized locutions sometimes occur more frequently than the ordinary form. Corpora also reveal that fiction uses verbal idioms rarely found in other forms of writing or in conversation, which suggests that novelists draw on their own experience of stereotyped fictional dialogue more than on real-life conversation. Oral epic poetry, from Homer to Beowulf, was, of course, also formulaic, but the received view is that written poetry should be quite the opposite: it should consist of new combinations of words. While it is easy to find poetry that does contain fixed expressions and poetic transformations of them, such as the ‘conversational’ (and occasionally prosaic) poetry of Wordsworth, Frost, Auden and McDiarmid, it is harder to argue that the poetry of Shakespeare, Donne, Shelley, Keats, Hopkins, Stevens or Ashbery is made up of formulaic language. Conversely, however, it can be shown that canonical poetry is the source of hundreds of phrases in our active verbal lexicons.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
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