The Ellipsis of Haiku: The Effects of Poetic Ellipsis1 in the Framework of Relevance Theory

In: The State of Stylistics

In the framework of relevance theory, certain mental effects we experience during conversations are defined as cognitive effects. These kinds of effects include obtaining contextual implications and revising one’s present assumptions. Another kind of effect that is well known is the poetic effect, which assumes the special effects we experience when a speaker intends her utterance to have multiple weak implicatures.

The effects of literary texts are often analyzed using this notion, poetic effect. However, for the very short type of literary texts, such as Japanese short poems, Haiku and Waka, the value of the shortness cannot be explained by the notion. This paper introduces a third type, which contrasts with poetic effects, that is, the effects of ‘poetic ellipsis’. By posing the effects, we will be able to distinguish between the essential value of verse and prose. In other words, we will explain why the shorter forms of literature sometimes tell us as much as, or more than, the longer expressions. The main purpose of this paper is to define the special type of ellipsis of Haiku by using the notion of poetic ellipsis. Haiku is called the literature of ellipsis and it is said that the essential value of this literature is its shortness.

The first section is an overview of some basic concepts about the meanings of an utterance (sentence) and what ellipsis is in the framework of relevance theory, along with a review of the overall attitude of relevance theory towards analyzing literary text and the well-known concept of poetic effects. In the second section, the new concept, poetic ellipsis, is introduced as a way of analyzing literary texts from a different angle, and illustrated by examples of Haiku and Haiku’s ellipsis as they are explained by the notion. Section three is an examination of English translations of Japanese Haiku in order to gain insight into Haiku’s special ellipsis, and includes a discussion on how to translate the shortness of Haiku. Finally, the importance of the quality of poetic ellipsis in Haiku’s ellipsis is explained by using the notion of highly relevant words.


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