Anacoluthon: Definition and Examples

An anacoluthon, originating from the Greek word "anakolouthos," meaning "lacking sequence," is a stylistic device characterized by a syntactic deviation or interruption within a sentence, causing a shift from one grammatical structure to another. This interruption disrupts the expected grammatical flow of a sentence and often initiates new sentences or constructions.

Characteristics of Anacoluthon

  • Intentional or Unintentional Use: Anacoluthon can be employed intentionally or unintentionally within a text. It may arise naturally in speech or writing when thoughts or expressions become disjointed.
  • Rhetorical Device: In rhetoric, anacoluthon is regarded as a figure of disorder in which the syntax of a sentence does not correlate with the reader's or listener's expectations. This deviation from expected sentence structure can serve rhetorical purposes within a discourse.
  • Distinct from Hyperbaton: Anacoluthon should not be confused with hyperbaton, another figure involving alterations in word, phrase, or sentence order. Hyperbaton often focuses on changing the normal position of words, while anacoluthon pertains to an interruption within a sentence's structure, deviating from the logical order.
  • Change in Tense: Anacoluthon may also manifest as a change in verb tense, introducing a temporal inconsistency or lack of agreement within the sentence.

Examples of Anacoluthon in Literature

Example #1: Ulysses (By James Joyce)

“… I could have brought him in his breakfast in bed with a bit of toast so long as I didnt do it on the knife for bad luck or if the woman was going her rounds with the watercress and something nice and tasty there are a few olives in the kitchen he might like I never could bear the look of them in Abrines I could do the criada the room looks all right since I changed it the other way you see something was telling me all the time I’d have to introduce myself not knowing me from Adam very funny wouldn’t it …”

In this example, anacoluthon is evident as a result of the stream of consciousness writing style. Thoughts lack coherence, leading to a lack of grammatical sequence and prompting readers to pause and consider the order of the sentences.

Example #2: King Lear (By William Shakespeare)

“I will have such revenges on you both,
That all the world shall—I will do such things,
What they are, yet I know not…”

King Lear's speech exemplifies anacoluthon, as it transitions from one sentence to another with an interruption. This serves to capture the reader's attention, highlighting Lear's inner turmoil and confusion.

Example #3: A Portrait of Mabel Dodge (By Gertrude Stein)

“A plank that was dry was not disturbing the smell of burning and altogether there was the best kind of sitting there could never be all the edging that the largest chair was having…”

In this case, Gertrude has deviated from one sentence to another. In the beginning, he talks about a plank and its smell. Then more sentences are added, and the result is that the grammatical order is changed.

Example #4: The Walrus and the Carpenter (By Lewis Carroll)

“‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
‘To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
And cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings.'”

Here, Walrus proclaims to all listening oysters that the time has come to speak about many things. Following his statement that “the sea is boiling hot,” there is an interruption in the grammatical flow of the sentences through a sudden change and insertion of conjunctions.

Function of Anacoluthon

  • Imitating Thought or Speech: Anacoluthon is commonly used to replicate the patterns of thought or speech, where ideas may shift abruptly. This stylistic device allows writers to mimic the flow of informal, ungrammatical, or disjointed conversations or thoughts, adding authenticity to dialogue or narrative.
  • Creating Artistic Effects: Writers often employ intentional anacoluthon to create specific artistic effects within their works. This deviation from expected grammar can draw attention to key moments, evoke emotional responses, or emphasize thematic elements. Anacoluthon can be a deliberate tool for storytelling, challenging conventional notions of sentence structure and narrative coherence.
  • Stream of Consciousness: Anacoluthon is well-suited to the stream of consciousness writing style, where thoughts are portrayed as they occur, without strict adherence to grammar or structure. It enables writers to convey the authenticity of inner monologues, which can be erratic and disorganized.
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