chapter
F
Pages 5

A communicative element may be said to be foregrounded when it is made the focus of attention for its own sake. The term derives from the work of the Russian and Czech Formalists during the 1920s who developed the concept as part of a theory which argued that literature was a specialised and distinctive mode of communication. Literature (and poetry in particular) was different from everyday communication because of the systematic foregrounding of selected linguistic components. These stood out against the background of everyday communicative norms in one of two ways – either by rule-breaking or by rule-making. Thus, one kind of foregrounding consists of manipulating the normal rules of linguistic communication by bending or breaking them, as in the following poem by e. e. cummings:

Me up at does out of the floor quietly Stare a poisoned mouse still who alive is asking What have i done that You wouldn’t have

Among other things, the first four lines scramble the more usual ordering of elements in an English clause, which in normal prose writing would be likely to read ‘a poisoned mouse does quietly stare up at me out of the floor’. This is one of several ways (including, for example, the adoption of unusual patterns of punctuation) in which the poem breaks the normal rules of English.