The Discourse of Silence: The Unspoken in Contemporary American Love Poetry

in Stylistics and Social Cognition
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This is an investigation of one reader’s intuitions regarding the representation of silence in poetic discourse (upon reading a collection of contemporary American love poetry). The aim of the study is to identify and analyze meaningful ‘silences’ (or absences) in the poems. After a discussion of the semiotics of silence, I consider the contours and functions of silence in interpersonal communication, and then focus on literary silence, describing its various possible representations on the printed page (at the levels of graphics, prosody, syntax, lexis and figurative language), with particular reference to the poems in the collection.

A reflection on some of the possible motivations underlying such silences in the discourse of desire is followed by more general considerations of the negative and positive values of silence. The ultimate objectives of the study are to determine how silence functions pragmatically in poetic discourse and to verify whether one reader’s subjective intuitions can be supported by objective textual analysis.

Within linguistics, silence has traditionally been ignored, [defined] negatively—as merely the absence of speech.(Saville Troike, 1985) silence […] merits to be fully treated in the study of linguistic communication.

(Jaworski, 1997)

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