Monday, December 17, 2007

word length and emphasis

English is a language dominated by monosyllable words. Multisyllable words tend to be inherited from Latin or Greek, and tend to be more abstract. Because of this poets can easily emphasis a concept or image by putting a multisyllable word in the middle of a string of monosyllable words. If one looks at the (undoubtedly unintended) effect our sensitivity to this has on the liturgy, one finds some interesting emphases. For instance, if one isolates the monosyllable words in the words of consecration, one finds:
body, given, everlasting covenant. forgiven. memory

In Latin you would not find the same kind of emphasis because almost all nouns, verbs and adjectives tend to be multisyllabic. For instance, if you isolate only words of three syllables or more in the Latin of the same text, you get:

Accipite, manducate, tradetur, Accipite, bibite, Sanguinis, aeterni
testamenti, effundetur, remissionem peccatorum, facite, commemorationem.

I'm not saying this is a significant theological difference, especially since some of the words appear on both lists. It is interesting that in both cases the emphasis, if measured by the number of syllables in the phrase, is on the consecration of the wine.

On the other hand, there is a psychological tendency among English speakers to have their eyes glaze over when too many syllables are used. We pay more attention to a staccato of monosyllables, then a string of abstract sounding polysyllables.

Once again, I'm not making any great metaphysical points about this. I'm just noticing it.

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