A Rhetoric Of Transitions

By Nirmaldasan

Rhetoric is the art of effective speech and writing, meant to persuade others to a point of view. Figures of speech are rhetorical devices. A figure of speech, according to Wren & Martin, is a departure from the ordinary form of expression, or the ordinary course of ideas in order to produce a greater effect. Here is Wren & Martin's classification of the figures of speech:

1. Those based on Resemblance, such as Simile, Metaphor, Personification and Apostrophe.
2. Those based on Contrast, such as Antithesis and Epigram.
3. Those based on Association, such as Metonymy and Synecdoche.
4. Those depending on Construction, such as Climax and Anti-climax.

Now what are transitions? According to Anne Heisenberg in 'Guide To Technical Editing': "Transitions are words, phrases or sentences that provide continuity between main ideas and the development of these ideas, between sentences in paragraphs, or between paragraphs in a longer document." According to Melvin Mencher in 'News Reporting And Writing': "Transitions are used after the reporter has planned his piece by blocking out the major sections. Transitions link these blocks as well as the smaller units, the sentences. Transitions are the mortar that holds the story together so that the story is a single unit."

Mencher identifies four major types of transitions. they are 1. Pronouns (refer to nouns in previous sentences) 2. Key words and ideas (repeat words and ideas in preceding sentences and paragraphs) 3. Transitional expressions (connecting words) and 4. Parallel structure (repeating the sentence pattern).

Linguistic skills imply three things: 1. A rich vocabulary 2. A complete understanding of sentence structures; and 3. The use of transitions to produce a seamless narrative. In 'Rhetoric Of Everyday Texts', Michael P. Jordan writes: "Texts are written not just for specific purposes, but also for specific readers, and this again is reflected in the information presented and the way it is presented."

Figures of speech are dependent on transitions, mostly within the sentence. A transition works like conjuctions showing similarity or contrast between two parts of a sentence. It also works like prepositions showing how a sentence is related to the preceding sentence. It works like a pronoun for economy and for elegant variation. A transition also repeats certain words or ideas in different sentences to make the paragraph appear as a single unit.

The most common transitions are those called transitional expressions. These may be classified under several heads: 1. Place (here, there) 2. Time (now, then) 3. Catalogue (first, last) 4. Contrast (but, instead) 5. Similarity (like, similarly) 6. Emphasis (surely, certainly) 7. Example (for instance, that is) 8. Consequence (hence, therefore); and so on.

Parallel structure is a subtle way of connecting sentences. This is done by respecting the sentence pattern. Here is Melvin Mencher's example:

"No one dared speak in his classes. No one ventured to address him in any but the most formal manner. No one, for that matter, had the courage to ask questions in class. His lectures were non-stop monologues."

Even within the sentence, parallel structure must be observed. Especially when correlative conjunctions (either/or, neither/nor, both/and) are used. Anne Heisenberg says: "In parallel construction, all the items in a series or comparison have the same grammatical form: adjectives are linked with adjectives, prepositional phrases with prepositional phrases, infinitives with infinitives..."

Here are some text structures, which throw more light on the nature and use of transitions: 1. Question-answer 2. Inverted pyramid 3. Topic-development-conclusion 4. Situation-problem-solution-evaluation 5. Theorem-proof-corollary; and 6. Experiment-observation-inference.

A useful exercise will be to first identify the format of a given text and then list out the different transitions found therein.

(presented at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 25 April 2005)

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