Syntax usually implies a certain set of principles and rules, which control the structure of sentences in any language. Therefore, it’s not an actual literary device but still a crucial part of every piece of literature.
Syntax in any language and any literary genre implies a proper word arrangement in sentences. Without this linguistic tool, it would be impossible for the reader to understand the text.
Originating from the Late Latin, syntax first came to use in English around 1545-1565. It derives from the term “syntaxis”, meaning “to arrange”.
In real life, when writing and speaking, we use syntax unconsciously, instinctively, and without giving it too much thought. We apply syntax every day, relying on the way we usually speak and the language peculiarities we individually possess. However, in literary pieces, authors deliberately control their syntax, manipulate the structure of sentences, and thoughtfully arrange the components of each sentence in order to achieve certain writing goals.
The main role of syntax in any literary piece is to deliver meaning. Without it, any text would be just a group of words that won’t have any value in the eyes of the readers.
Syntax can be used to enhance some parts of the sentence and to create a stronger artistic effect. Oftentimes, authors use uncommon syntactic patterns and combinations to simply add some versatility to the text.
Syntax can also serve to create a clearer picture of a character. When the character uses only simple and short sentences, this can show how immature or uneducated he is. At the same time, when the author uses complex and somewhat sophisticated syntactic patterns, the character might come across as a smart, witty individual.
Being a crucial part of linguistics, syntax helps literary experts and readers learn about language peculiarities of certain time periods. It is an excellent way to learn how the language has changed with the course of time and what linguistic patterns used to be prevalent in the old literature but are considered incomprehensible these days.
Inverted syntax (also atypical) is a prevalent literary tool, especially in poetry. It is used not only to create a certain rhythm of the text and rhyme but also to draw the reader's’ attention to certain parts of the poetical work. In prose pieces, atypical syntactic patterns are also implemented in parts where an emphasis needs to be made. Inverted syntax requires certain artistic and linguistic skills from the author as the negligent use might simply confuse the readers.
Syntax and diction, while being two unrelated terms, get confused quite often because of their usage possibilities. Both of these linguistic aspects play a great role in the sentence forming and delivering a certain meaning. However, while syntax implies using a correct word pattern, diction involves a proper word choice.
The examples of syntactic patterns and structures can be found in any literary piece. Syntax really stands out as a linguistic tool when it is used in an unconventional way. For instance, Shakespeare oftentimes used inverted (or reversed) syntax in his works where he put the verb and the corresponding noun far apart: “What light from yonder window breaks?”. According to proper syntactic patterns, the word “breaks” should follow the word “light”. But Shakespeare breaks the rule to preserve the rhythm of the text and, perhaps, to create a more artistic and poetic effect.
Another work where uncommon syntax usage can be found is “Hamlet”. The sentence “I shall the effect of this good lesson keep” presents another way to use atypical syntactic patterns in order to stick to the certain rhythm and create a proper rhyme.
Oftentimes, the syntax the writer chooses to use can serve to illustrate his or her style and to create a certain image to a story. Hemingway was famous for his simple syntactic patterns and very preserved style of speech, which helped him add more seriousness to his works when describing important and serious subjects. In his “Hills Like White Elephants”, he depicts a conversation between a girl and a man, using very straightforward and simple syntactic patterns, thus illustrating the seriousness and meaningfulness of the subject they’re discussing. Here, syntax also serves to present the author’s style.
Syntax cannot be strictly considered a literary tool even though it is a crucial part of any piece of literature. It implies a certain word arrangement in a sentence, which helps the author deliver a message and helps the reader understand it.
The term originates from the word “syntaxis” (Late Latin) and can be translated as “to arrange”, which perfectly illustrates its role and definition. Syntax is used in all aspects of a language, both written and oral, and serves to convey the meaning of the text or conversation.
When used atypically, syntax helps the author make a stronger emphasis and stick to a certain rhythm of the text, especially in poetry. It is also used to present the writer’s personal style and show the linguistic peculiarities he or she possesses.
Syntax can help the writer present a certain image of a character. Depending on the complexity or simplicity of the syntactic patterns a certain character uses, the reader can form certain opinions about the hero, his education, and his character.