Multiple Coordination and Parataxis

The Grahame, Hemingway, and biblical examples all use multiple coordination, linking clauses by coordinating conjunc-these cases, as in most, by using the word

Instead of being coordinated, however, independent clauses can be butted together without conjunctions, in which case they are conventionally punctuated by semicolons, though sometimes commas are clear enough. This is called parataxis.

Although either multiple coordination or parataxis is possible in a freight-train sentence, they are not exact equivalents. Broadly speaking, the first is called for when the ideas or feelings or perceptions are when the writer desires a quick and fluid movement from clause to clause. These conditions are true of the three examples we have just seen, as they are of the following relatively short sentence by Hemingway:

It was a hot day and the sky was bright and the road was white and dusty.

There is movement here, involving both the scene and the sense by which we perceive it: we feel the heat, see the sky, lower our eyes to gaze down the road. The sentence style directs our senses much as a camera directs them in a guiding us from one perception to another, yet creating a continuous experience. The freight-train style, then, can analyze experience much like a series of segregating sentences. But it brings the parts more closely together, and when it uses multiple coordination, it achieves a high degree of fluidity.

On the other hand, fluidity is not always desirable. Ideas or perceptions may be repetitive, with little change and nothing to flow together. Then parataxis is preferable to multiple coordination. In the following example Virginia Woolf, summarizing a diary of an eighteenth-century Englishman visiting France, uses a freight-train style to mock his insularity:

This is what he writes about, and, of course, about the habits of the natives. The habits of the natives are disgusting; the women hawk on the floor, the forks are dirty; the trees are poor; the Pont Neuf is not a patch on London Bridge; the cows are skinny; morals are licentious; polish is good; cabbages cost so much; bread is made of coarse flour.

Each detail is another instance of the same underlying insen-sitivity. By hooking her clauses with semicolons (in one case with a comma) Woolf stresses the dull, unyielding vision of the diarist.

Along with its advantages, the freight-train sentence has limitations. Like the segregating style, it does not handle ideas very subtly. The freight-train sentence implies that the thoughts it links together with grammatical equality are equally significant. But usually ideas are not of the same order of importance; some are major, others secondary. Moreover, this type of construction cannot show very precise logical relationships of cause and effect, condition, concession, and so on. It joins ideas only with such general conjunctions as and, but, or, nor or even less exactly with semicolons and commas.

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  • tove
    What is parataxis in perception?
    4 years ago

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