Parallelism (Structure)

Parallelism (Structure) - There are many ways that we can rearrange the typical syntax of a sentence for some literary effect, whether hifalutin, funny, moving, memorable, or weird. “Syntax” simply means “the rules of how words fit together to make language,” word order. In English, subject (noun, doer, agent) usually precedes predicate (verb, action), followed sometimes by object (thing done, or thing done to or by some other thing).

There are many big Greek and Latin words to describe structural literary devices in English (e.g., “chiasmus,” “polysyndeton,” “hyperbaton,” etc.); you don’t need to know them. The main structural effect we’ll look for is parallelism, which is simply the use of similar word order.

“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can for your country” is two sentences, chopped in half, with the back half turned around. It proceeds like a letter V: We go down from country to you, then from you back up to country.  It sounds good, or at least some people think so. (This is an example of “chiasmus,” by the way; the word is Greek for “like an X,” a crossing.)

Parallels exist everywhere in the Bible, Qur’an, plays of Shakespeare, and the like. To make up a quick, arbitrary example of similarly-cadenced sentences: “We came unto This Place. We came unto That Place. We came unto the Third Place. We ate rice quickly. We ate honey slowly. We ate monkeys unhappily.” You get the idea. The order of the words creates a rhythm. For whatever weird reason, our brains feel something based on that rhythm. We remember the words. (These are also an example of parataxis, or repeated short sentences.)

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