Alliteration: What is Alliteration? How Do You Define Alliteration?

Alliteration: What is Alliteration? How Do You Define Alliteration?

Mar 03

AlliterationIn class 10, Sandra teacher acquainted us to the many joys of Figures of Speech. Some of them were tough to understand while others were a delight. One of the earliest figures of speech I got acquainted with was: Alliteration.

We studied Alliteration with an example from the poem “I Vow to Thee, My Country” by Sir Cecil Spring-Rice. This poem had a beautiful Alliteration:

And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase

Read the above line slowly and enjoy the repeated “s” sound. Does it not add an amazing amount of music to the line. Imagine its equivalent, but without the repeated “s” sound:

And one soul after another quietly her immaculate bounds increase

That just does not do it, right?

The repetition of a sound in consecutive words is called Alliteration. It is stylistic device which repeats a consonant sound for effect.

On this blog, we do not like to split hair when it comes to English Usage. After all, rules of grammar, punctuation, and style should be our instruments and not our masters. But to avoid confusion, let me elaborate on Alliteration a bit more:

1) In an alliterative construct, the same consonant sound does not have to necessarily be present in consecutive words, it could also be in nearly consecutive words.

2) Some letters such as “c” can take more than one sound. Alliteration is about the sound, and not about the letter. Much worse, “silent” letters should be ignored and only the first sound should be considered.

3) Though Alliteration is a literary device, and not limited to being a poetic device, it is usually associated with poetry. As a result, many definitions of Alliteration would actually limit its use to poetry.

4) An Alliteration can easily be formed with a same sound in just two consecutive words, unlike the series of sound repetition the example I considered earlier.

5) Though I said that Alliteration is about a repeated consonant sound, I was not entirely right, as Alliteration can be of two types: consonance and assonance. The Alliteration with repeated consonant sound is consonance. But let me not go further down this road, as this article will get too complicated if I do. Some day, I will write about assonance and consonance. So that I can not hammered by purists, let me point out that some grammarians regard Alliteration to be a type of consonance as opposed to the other way around.

Before I conclude, let me point out that Alliterations sound beautiful even in languages other than English. For instance a line that occurs twice (I think) in the Guru Granth Saheb, the holy book of the Sikhs, has a beautiful Alliteration. It goes this way:

Soi Soi Sada Sach Saheb Sacha Sachi Nai

Au Revoir