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Pessoa and thoughts on grammar

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 27 Jan 2015, 22:40

I have just been reading a translation of an unusual book by Pessoa (1991) and was particularly intrigued by some thoughts on grammar towards the end of it.  Many of them seem to relate interestingly to concepts covered in E303 and E301.

The first is "grammar is a tool not a law" (page 231).  This seems to relate to the ideas of SFL where there is such an emphasis on the functions that language serves.

There is then a long paragraph where he suggests that "someone who understands what is involved in speaking often needs to make a transitive verb intransitive and vice versa" and that "If I wanted to talk about my existence as an entity that both directs and forms itself.....I would have to inventa transitive form and say grammatically supreme 'I exist me'" (page 231).  This quote is interesting as "I exist me" seems similar to the kinds of structures used in spoken English (Carter 2004).  Pessoa also seems to be explicitly linking grammatical deviance to creative and literary texts.

There is then another call for appropriate deviance "Only those who are unable to think what they feel obey grammatical rules.  Someone who knows how to express themselves can use those rules as he pleases.  There's a story they tell of Sigismund, King of Rome, who, having made a grammatical mistake in a public speech , said to the person who pointed this out "I am King of Rome and therefore above grammar" (page 231-232). 

These points resonated with many of my thoughts recently.  For example, I was thinking of this as I heard David Cameron recently say "I are...."  I have not seem this referred to in the press and I slightly wonder whether he was using the mistake/deviance as a tool for expressing (perhaps manufactured) anger about the recent EU bill.

Carter R (2004) Language and creativity: The art of common talk London: Routledge

Pessoa F (translated 1991) The Book of Disquiet London: Serpent's Tail.



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