A posteriori


DATIVE: See discussion here



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DATIVE: See discussion here.

DAWN SONG (also called an aubade): A genre of poetry common to Europe in which the poem is about the dawn or coming of dawn, or it is a piece of music meant to be sung or played outdoors at dawn. Examples include Browning's "The year's at the spring / And day's at the morn" from Pippa Passes or Shakespeare's "Hark! hark! the lark." Some poems, such as John Donne's "Busy old sun" share traits with the dawn song, and Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde also contains an example inside its larger narrative.

DEAD LANGUAGE: In linguistics, a dead language is one that does not change any more over time--it is "frozen" historically because it is no longer used in everyday discourse, but is instead learned only for ritual use, scholarly study, or the preservation of an ancient literature. Classical Latin and Sanskrit are two examples of dead languages. This situation contrasts with a living language, in which old words die out, new ones are added, and existing words change their meaning continuously over time from one generation to the next, as A. C. Baugh puts it (2).

DECLENSION: See discussion under declined language or click here for example cases.

DECLINED LANGUAGE: Also called a synthetic language, or an inflected language, a declined language is one in which word order is not as important in making meaning as the use of inflections or declensions--special endings stuck on the end of words--to indicate the case, or how each word functions. These endings are called declensions, a term that comes from the handwritten grammar charts used by medieval monks who create a series of angled or declined lines in specified patterns, and on these lines the students would write the correct word-ending as part of grammar exercises. Click here for further information.

DECONSTRUCTED: See discussion under deconstruction.

DECONSTRUCTION: An interpretive movement in literary theory that reached its apex in the 1970s. Deconstruction rejects absolute interpretations, stressing ambiguities and contradictions in literature. Deconstruction grew out of the linguistic principles of De Saussure who noted that many Indo-European languages create meaning by binary opposites. Verbal oppositions such as good/evil, light/dark, male/female, rise/fall, up/down, and high/low show a human tendency common transculturally to create vocabulary as pairs of opposites, with one of the two words arbitrarily given positive connotations and the other word arbitrarily given negative connotations. Deconstructionists carry this principle one step further by asserting that this tendency is endemic to all words, and hence all literature. For instance, they might try to complicate literary interpretations by revealing that "heroes" and "villains" often have overlapping traits, or else they have traits that only exist because of the presence of the other. Hence these concepts are unreliable in themselves as a basis for talking about literature in any meaningful way. Oftentimes, detractors of deconstruction argue that deconstructionists deny the value of literature, or assert that all literature is ultimately meaningless. It would be more accurate to assert that deconstructionists deny the absolute value of literature, and assert that all literature is ultimately incapable of offering a constructed meaning external to the "prison-house of language," which always embodies oppositional ideas within itself. Deconstruction is symptomatic in many ways of postmodernism. In the more radical fringes of postmodernism, postmodern artists, dramatists, poets, and writers seek to emphasize the conventions of story-telling (rather than hide these conventions behind verisimilitude) and break away from conventions like realism, cause-and-effect, and traditional plot in narratives. Such a text might be called "deconstructed" in a loose sense. See also différance.

DECORATED INITIAL: In medieval manuscripts, this term refers to an introductory letter of a text division, embellished with some type of abstract design, i.e., a design not necessarily containing a picture (which would make it an inhabited initial) and not necessarily containing a scene from the story (which would make it an historiated initial). Unlike the latter two types, the adornment in a decorated initial has no overt connection to the material discussed or narrated in the book's contents. Click here for an example from Dagulf's Psalter in order to view one. Cf. inhabited initial and historiated initial.

DECORUM: The requirement that individual characters, the characters' actions, and the style of speech should be matched to each other and to the genre in which they appear. This idea was of central importance to writers and literary critics from the time of the Renaissance up through the eighteenth century. Lowly characters, low actions, and low style, for instance, were thought necessary for satire. Epic literature, on the other hand, called for characters of high estate, engaging in great actions, and speaking using elevated, poetic diction.

DEDUCTION: The process of logic in which a thinker takes a rule for a large, general category and assumes that specific individual examples fitting within that general category obey the same rule. For instance, a general rule might be that "Objects made of iron rust." When the logician then encounters a shovel made of iron, he can assume deductively that the shovel made of iron will also rust just as other iron objects do. This process is the opposite of induction. Induction fashions a large, general rule from a specific example. Deduction determines the truth about specific examples using a large general rule. Deductive thinking is also called syllogistic thinking. See induction, logic, and logical fallacies, and the class's syllogism handouts.

DEEP STRUCTURE: In Noam Chomsky's transformational grammar, the biological "hardwiring" in the brain that gives children the capacity to use language, as opposed to the surface structure, i.e., the incidentals of the language children actually learn.

DEFAMILIARIZATION: The literary theoretical term "defamiliarization" is an English translation for Viktor Shklovsky's Russian term ostranenie. Shklovsky coined the phrase in 1917 in his essay "Art as Technique." In this artistic technique, a writer, poet, or painter takes common, everyday, or familiar objects and forces the audience to see them in an unfamiliar way or from a strange perspective. It is especially common in satire, Dadaism, postmodernism, and science fiction. Although Shklovsky coined this term to mark a distinction between poetic language and practical, communicative language, he and later critics argued it applied to all effective art, which ideally would force the viewer/reader to perceive the subject in a new way.

DEISM (From Latin Deus, "God"): An intellectual religious movement en vogue through the late seventeenth century up to the late eighteenth century concerned with rational rather than faith-based approaches to religion and understanding God. The movement is often associated with the Enlightenment movement, Neoclassicism, and Free Masonry. In general, Deists prided themselves on free-thinking and logic and tended to reject any specific dogma, so it is difficult to define the beliefs of an individual Deist without referring to generalities. Deists were heavily influenced by John Locke's mechanistic philosophy and Newtonian physics, seeing the universe as a place ruled rationally by cause and effect. They tended to see God as an impersonal but intelligent force, a first cause that created the universe and set it in motion, who then allowed life and matter to proceed on its own without further need for divine intervention. The logic is that, if God is infallible, omniscient and omnipotent, logically he would pre-establish his design in the world in such a way that he would not need to tinker constantly with it or adjust it through supernatural intervention. (Such activity indicates an error, a change of mind, indecision, or some other sign of imperfection on God's part.)

This divine being was thought to be completely transcendent--separate from the creation rather than contained within it. Deistic writings often refer to the Deity using metaphors of the architect, the watchmaker, the mason, or some other skilled worker who measures out the universe with geometric and mechanical precision. Thus, a common Deist metaphor compares the universe to a perfectly designed watch or clock--a construct created with complex gears and moving parts, then wound up, and finally released since it can operate on its own without any more effort on the creator's part. Deists rejected the belief that an infallible creator would need to intervene via miracles and individual revelation. Generally, Deism rejected trinitarian doctrine in favor of seeing God as a unified, singular entity. They usually viewed Christ as a holy and wise man, but discounted the idea of him performing miracles or being a literal son of God. To distinguish between the Deistic idea of monotheism and that espoused by traditional, dogmatic religions, they usually referred to the Godhead as "the Deity" or "the Creator" (as opposed to conventional labels "God," or "Jehovah" or "Christ"). They tended to see the divine as impersonal, as removed from humanity and unmoved by prayers, sacrifices, or other acts of spiritual bribery. They thought the rational and structured nature of the divine was better seen in the perfect orbits of planets and the precision of geometry and the predictable harmonies of mathematics, rather than in prayer, sermons, speaking in tongues, or other irrational displays of extra-normal reality. They thought that God was best worshipped by good works, effective charity, and harmonious interaction with one's fellow humans rather than by empty religious ritual, church attendance, or financial support of some "priestly caste," as one Deist wrote.

Examples of Enlightenment figures influenced by Deism include Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Voltaire, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, John Toland, Antony Cooper, Thomas Wooston, Matthew Tindal, Peter Annet, and others. The case of Thomas Jefferson is particularly of interest, given his editing of the "Jefferson Bible"--a harmonized edition of the four gospels blended into one text, but one in which Jefferson systematically deletes all references to Christ's miracles and the supernatural, focusing only on moral precepts and eradicating what Jefferson calls "enthusiasms" and "superstitions." Copies can be purchased from online bookstores under the title The Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, for students interested in tracing Deist thought.



DEMAND DAMOUR (TBA)

DEMESURE (French, "lack of measure"): In French chivalric literature, the equivalent of Latin immoderatio--excessive actions and uncontrolled passions such as those of Roland in the Chanson de Roland. This trait contrasts with the mesure (the ability to follow a golden mean and not go to unreasonable extremes). In the literature of courtly love, a frequent debate is whether the ideal courtly lover should have mesure or demesure--and which emotion is more worthy of his beloved.

DENOTATION: The minimal, strict definition of a word as found in a dictionary, disregarding any historical or emotional connotation. Contrast with connotation.

DENOUEMENT: A French word meaning "unknotting" or "unwinding," denouement refers to the outcome or result of a complex situation or sequence of events, an aftermath or resolution that usually occurs near the final stages of the plot. It is the unraveling of the main dramatic complications in a play, novel or other work of literature. In drama, the term is usually applied to tragedies or to comedies with catastrophes in their plot. This resolution usually takes place in the final chapter or scene, after the climax is over. Usually the denouement ends as quickly as the writer can arrange it--for it occurs only after all the conflicts have been resolved.

DENTAL SUFFIX: A -d or -t ending typically added to English weak verbs (i.e, "regular verbs") in the past tense and the past participle form. For instance, "I walk, I walked, I have walked." Here, the -d ending is a dental suffix. This contrasts with the English strong verbs (i.e., so-called "irregular verbs") which indicate the past tense and the participle form by a change in the stem's vowel. For instance, "I break, I broke, I have broken."

DESCARTEAN REASONING: Logic of the sort championed by French philosopher René Descarte (1596-1650). This logic involves (1) a dualistic split between the mind and physical matter, and (2) radical doubt concerning the evidence of the senses. Descarte attempted to prove the existence of himself, the physical world, and God without appealing to any sensory evidence at all. His initial step is the logical statement, cogito, ergo sum ("I think, therefore I am"). By this statement, Descarte indicates that the act of thinking by itself shows the thinker cannot be illusory; i.e., one cannot trick a non-existent being into thinking it exists when it doesn't. The mere fact an "I" exists to ask the question of its existence conclusively proves the "I" must really be present behind the thought.

DESCENT INTO THE UNDERWORLD: An archetype or motif in folklore, religion, mythology, or literature in which the protagonist must descend into the realm of the dead (usually located beneath the earth in hell, Elysium, or Tartarus) and then return to the realm of the living at the earth's surface, often after rescuing a trapped soul or seeking the advice of the dead. Sometimes, a psychopompos will serve as a guide on this journey.

This idea appears in many different cultures. In Mesopotamian legend, the goddess Inanna must enter Queen Erishikegal's realm of the dead unclothed, and she can only return if another soul is chosen to take her place. In Egyptian mythology, the souls descending into the next life must appear before a judge who takes his scales and weighs their hearts against a single feather. Greek examples include Orpheus's expedition to rescue Eurydice from Hades, or Hades' abduction of Persephone to make her the queen of his realm, or Odysseus's necromantic conversation with the shades of his old comrades who regain their power of speech after drinking sacrificial blood from a lamb. In Roman literature such as the Aeneid, Virgil describes how the Sibyl instructs Aeneas to use a golden bough as a bribe so Charon will ferry Aeneas across the river Styx.

In one of the most spectacular medieval treatments of the motif, Dante has a persona of himself undertake such a trip through a multi-layered hell in The Inferno. Other medieval examples include Saint Patrick's Purgatory and Sir Orfeo. Medieval writers such as the "Vatican mythographers" often treat all sorts of mythological narratives as symbolic of the descent into the underworld. One example is Theseus's battle with the minotaur, in which medieval readers equated Theseus with Christ, the bull with Satan, and the labyrinth with the underworld. In the early apocryphal books of the Bible, such as the Gospel of Nicodimas, Christ descends into hell during the three days after his crucifixion and frees the souls there in the harrowing of hell, an apocryphal belief that still appears in the Apostle's Creed today even though most Protestant groups reject apocryphal texts in favor of those books of the bible considered canonical today.

Other writers adapt the motif for purely symbolic effects. The cyberpunk novel Snow Crash includes Juanita Marquez as a typological figure of the goddess Inanna; Juanita descends into a figurative land-of-the-dead by infecting herself with a language-virus on a raft of refugees, and her rescuer ("Hiro Protagonist") must guide her back to the land-of-the living.

Freudian and Jungian critics might read these descent motifs psychologically as a symbol of entering the dark realms of the subconscious mind, and point out the images of rebirth that usually accompany the hero's return. See also the Other World.

DESCRIPTIVIST: A grammatical treatise or dictionary is said to be descriptivist if it has the goal of describing nonjudgmentally how a group of people tends to use language, rather than the goal of fashioning guidelines or "rules" for grammar, spelling, and word use. Contrast with prescriptivist.

DETECTIVE NOVEL: A mystery novel focusing on a brilliant investigator--often a detective--solving a crime. See mystery novel.

DEUS EX MACHINA (from Greek theos apo mechanes): An unrealistic or unexpected intervention to rescue the protagonists or resolve the story's conflict. The term means "The god out of the machine," and it refers to stage machinery. A classical Greek actor, portraying one of the Greek gods in a play, might be lowered out of the sky onto the stage and then use his divine powers to solve all the mortals' problems. The term is a negative one, and it often implies a lack of skill on the part of the writer. In a modern example of deus ex machina, a writer might reach a climactic moment in which a band of pioneers were attacked by bandits. A cavalry brigade's unexpected arrival to drive away the marauding bandits at the conclusion, with no previous hint of the cavalry's existence, would be a deus ex machina conclusion. Such endings mean that heroes are unable to solve their own problems in a pleasing manner, and they must be "rescued" by the writer himself through improbable means. In some genres, the deus ex machina ending is actually a positive and expected trait. In various vitae, or Saint's Lives, divine intervention is one of the normal climactic moments of the narrative to bring about the rescue of a saint or to cause a mass conversion among conventional pagan characters. See vita.

DEUTERAGONIST: A sidekick who accompanies the main protagonist, the main character or hero, in a narrative. In The Advenures of Huckleberry Finn, for instance, the slave Jim is a deuteragonist and Huck Finn is the protagonist. The deuteragonist may be either round or flat as a character, and he often serves as a foil to the protagonist as well. Note that classical scholars often use the word deuteragonist in a more restricted sense. In the oldest form of classical Greek drama, plays originally consisted of a single character standing on stage speaking with the chorus. Later dramatists introduced the innovation of a second actor (the deuteragonist) who stood on stage and donned a variety of masks to represent the other various characters besides the hero. A still later innovation was the tritagonist, a third character on stage which allowed more complex interactions of dialogue. (See further discussion under character, and see protagonist, round character, flat character, foil, and tritagonist.)

DEUTERONOMIC LAW: The belief that God could choose to wait several generations before punishing a sinful race for the sins of the fathers. Thus, the children or descendants of the original criminals or evildoers would suffer the consequences of their ancestors' choices regardless of their own piety or virtue. The idea originates in an Old Testament Biblical passage found in Deuteronomy 5:9: ". . . For I am the Lord thy God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon their children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me." A similar passage in Ezekiel 18:2 and Jeremiah 31:29-30 ("The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge") was also read as an echo of this idea, though in general, the doctrine is referred to as Deuteronomic by Renaissance theologians. Renaissance historians, especially those influenced by Tudor propaganda, saw the War of the Roses and the subsequent series of incompetent kings (like Henry VI) and cruel tyrants (like Richard III) as God's punishment descending upon Britain for allowing Henry IV to usurp the throne from a legitimate ruler three generations earlier. Click here for PDF handout of this material.

DIACHRONIC (Grk, "across time"): An analysis of literature, history, or linguistics is diachronic if it examines changes or developments in a single area or discipline over the course of many centuries. This term is the opposite of a synchronic analysis, which limits itself to studying a single moment or time in history, but compares the traits or developments across a wide area of geography or a wide number of disciplines.

DIACOPE (from Greek, "cleft" or "gash"; also called Epizeuxis or repetition): Uninterrupted repetition, or repetition with only one or two words between each repeated phrase. Typically, the purpose of diacope is to show strong emotion. Peacham writes, "My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed." A character in a gothic novel might cry out, "Oh, horror, horror, horror!" Probably the most dramatic use of diacope is found in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Bells," in which Poe writes,

To the swinging and the ringing
Of the bells, bells, bells--
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells--

Diacope is an example of a rhetorical scheme. Do note that some rhetoricians such as Arthur Quinn and Richard Lanham suggest that diacope can, in another secondary meaning, be used interchangeably with tmesis.

DIACRITIC: An accent or change to a normal alphabetical letter to differentiate its pronunciation. Click here for examples.

DIALECT: The language of a particular district, class, or group of persons. The term dialect encompasses the sounds, spelling, grammar, and diction employed by a specific people as distinguished from other persons either geographically or socially. Dialect is a major technique of characterization that reveals the social or geographic status of a character. For example, Mark Twain uses exaggerated dialect in his Huckleberry Finn to differentiate between characters:

Jim: "We's safe, Huck, we's safe! Jump up and crack yo' heels. Dat's de good ole Cairo at las', I jis knows it."

Huck: "I'll take the canoe and go see, Jim. It mightn't be, you know."

Other famous uses of dialect include the novels Silas Mariner and Middlemarch by George Eliot. The act of intentionally misspelling a word to create an artistic effect or the effect of dialect is called metaplasmus.

Old-English and Middle English also had unique regional dialects. In Old English, the four major regional dialects were West Saxon, Kentish, Mercian, and Northumbrian. As the centuries went by, West Saxon became increasingly the standard. In Middle English, the major dialects included Southern, Kentish, West Midlands, East Midlands, and Northern.

Modern English in the British isles shows signs of both regional dialects and class dialects. Nearly each British county has its own peculiarities, and as A. C. Baugh notes, sometimes as many as three dialectal regions may be distinguished within the boundaries of a single shire (316). The diversity of dialects in the isles is well documented since the publication of the Survey of English Dialects in 1962.

Modern American English regional dialects include Eastern New England (Bostonian), New York, Inland Northern (Great Lakes), North Midland (covers southern New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, north Delaware, and Maryland), Mid-southern (West Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee), Southern (Virginia, South Carolina lowlands, Louisianna), General American, and Black English Vernacular. See also caste dialect, regional or geographical dialect, and ethnic dialect.

DIALOGUE: The lines spoken by a character or characters in a play, essay, story, or novel, especially a conversation between two characters, or a literary work that takes the form of such a discussion (e.g., Plato's Republic). Bad dialogue is pointless. Good dialogue either provides characterization or advances the plot. In plays, dialogue often includes within it hints akin to stage directions. For instance, if one character asks, "Why are you hitting me?" the reader can assume that on stage another character is striking the speaker. Noticing such details is particularly important in classical drama and in Shakespeare's plays since explicit stage directions are often missing.

DIAMANTE (Italian via French, "sparkling decoration," cognate with diamond, pronounced dee oh MON tay): A genre of simple concrete poetry consisting of a single unrhymed and untitled stanza with a visual structure shaped like a diamond. The poem is designed to be seen printed on a page rather than read aloud. The diamante stanza has seven lines and is normally used as children's poetry; accordingly, many elementary teachers are fond of using it to teach children parts of speech, antonyms, and simple poetic structure. Traditionally, the stanza structure is as follows:


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