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The ornament of grammar

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Part of an ongoing research project to interpret linguistic grammar visually, this essay presents initial experiments to visualize rhetorical patterns in English sentences. Creative contextualization is offered with reference to earlier visual forms that were treated as a kind of language. A certain strand in Modernism ‐ in particular that running through the Bauhaus, which used abstract devices as a foundational design syntax ‐ paved the way for post-war picture books to activate the narrative potential of simple coloured shapes; and, again, avant-garde musical scores from the 1950s onwards used exploratory graphic notations to instigate expressive new treatments of sound. My own visualizations are playful in spirit but posit a serious idea that grammar works by means of deep aesthetic tendencies. My case studies ‐ featuring a model user and a model abuser of English ‐ flag up common patterns in typical sentence constructions under seven descriptive labels. Ultimately the essay suggests that Illustration might flourish at the level of the sentence, the basic unit of meaning within word-based language and, in very simple terms, the expression of a thought. Ornamenting the rhythm and flow of how a sentence operates is one means of 'seeing' a voice lending shape to thought at a detailed level.
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Keywords: graphic communication; language games; narrative illustration; pictograph; sentence energy; visual grammar

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2019

More about this publication?
  • Illustration is a rapidly evolving field with an excitingly broad scope. Despite its cultural significance and rich history, illustration has rarely been subject to deep academic scrutiny. The Journal of Illustration provides an international forum for scholarly research and investigation of a range of cultural, political, philosophical, historical, and contemporary issues, in relation to illustration. The journal encourages new critical writing on illustration, associated visual communication, and the role of the illustrator as visualizer, thinker, and facilitator, within a wide variety of disciplines and professional contexts.

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