Tuesday, March 13, 2007

WORDS: Parse This

[Gertrude] Stein was passionate about grammar. "I really do not know that anything has ever been more exciting than diagramming sentences," Stein said. She found parsing sentences to be "completely exciting and completely completing." I completely agree. One line for subject, two for predicate, three for object. Wiggly lines for something. My favourites were the triangular brackets—I just can't remember what they were for. The exercise taught me about the construction of language as a system of coding. Stein probably didn't see it that way, of course; for her, it seems to have had something to do with finding the underlying logic of language, its inner mechanics, and with working out how language could be reconfigured to suggest new ways of thinking. Stein seems to have instinctively understood that language is an invented thing, floating free of the world, and that we are at liberty to bend it to our impulses and needs.
If, like mine, your heart went pitty-pat at the phrase "diagramming sentences," then you probably need to read the entire article this passage is excerpted from. It's one of the best essays I've read in a while, and it actually got me hankering to read some more of Stein's work. Which, if you've read her, you'll know is saying something.

(You'll have to sign up for a trial subscription to The Walrus, but it's the easiest trial I've ever subscribed to. All you need to provide is a username, email address and password. Trial subscription is no longer required, so click away, my internet friends. [Thanks for the update, Jordan.] The Walrus is awesome. I've been planning to subscribe for months, and this article may have just overcome my last shred of inertia.)


Sassmaster said...

Ohmigod, I always loved it when we busted out the grammar workbooks in school. And diagramming was my FAVorite. I remember a passage of one of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books where she describes diagramming a sentence. Mmmm, so satisfying!

Maria said...

Didn't Gertrude once write a sentence about twenty-six pages long?

Anonymous said...

As of this afternoon, that article no longer requires you to sign up for a trial.

The current issue and the previous month's issue are the only ones with access limited to subscribers. Our entire archive is free. Since we posted the April issue today, the February issue, in which the Stein piece appears, becomes available to read without signing up.

That said, Doppelganger, we'd still really love to have you (and your readers) subscribe! We promise to give you your money's worth...

Thanks for reading, and for posting about the Stein piece.


Jordan Timm
Online Editor
The Walrus