All about al­lit­er­a­tion

Al­lit­er­a­tive agility in verse, prose, and more.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - R.AGE -

RE­MEM­BER Lin­ger­ing over lin­gerie (by Dr Lim Chin Lam, MOE, Sept 24)? Who would have thought that prim and proper se­nior with a cool, calm and col­lected de­meanour could in­duce a lady like me to linger lan­guorously over his choice of a cheeky, nay, tit­il­lat­ing ti­tle? Well, I did, and came away fired by an­other fas­ci­nat­ing facet of my favourite lan­guage – its amaz­ing al­lit­er­a­tive agility!

“Al­lit­er­a­tion” (pro­nounced ah-lit-err-RAYshun) is de­scribed as “ the use of the same let­ter or sound at the be­gin­ning of words that are close to­gether” ( Ox­ford Ad­vanced Learner’s Dic­tio­nary, 2002; p31), as in “sing a song of six … Sen!” (and why not?) This rep­e­ti­tion of ini­tial sounds in neigh­bour­ing words is some­times also termed front rhyme, head rhyme or ini­tial rhyme. To help teach­ers un­der­stand the fa­mil­ial re­la­tion­ship be­tween al­lit­er­a­tion, as­so­nance and con­so­nance, I use this handy de­scrip­tion: “Al­lit­er­a­tion is the genus, whereas as­so­nance and con­so­nance are the species.” How­ever, since I’m not on a fam­ily out­ing here, I will fête al­lit­er­a­tion.

As a lit­er­ary de­vice, al­lit­er­a­tion is an art­ful aid that adds frai cheur – French for fresh­ness – for a cre­ative and mem­o­rable lan­guage im­print. As­suredly, a lit­tle al­lit­er­a­tion perks up lan­guage use, but not when you turn into an al­lit­er­a­tion lit­ter lout! Over-al­lit­er­a­tion has a cloy­ing, con­temp­tu­ous, and/or even comic ef­fect. It ceases to be a mea­sure of your lin­guis­tic cal­i­bre; no more clever, when clearly con­nived, con­tin­u­ously con­trived and cal­cu­lated; you cre­ate a ca­su­alty of con­spir­a­to­rial ca­cophonous al­pha­betic sounds. Phew! A dis­cor­dant stretch that surely con­tra­venes the canons of good lin­guis­tic ex­pres­sion, I know! Lam­baste me if you like. I say, “sorry, for sub­ject­ing you to a suf­fo­cat­ing sur­feit of the sonic sort” (oops! I did it again). A lit­tle les­son, I thought, to get the point across. For­give me for try­ing too hard.

In­deed, the lin­ger­ing sound ef­fects make al­lit­er­a­tion a pop­u­lar lit­er­ary de­vice in the hands of clever writ­ers. Many peo­ple use al­lit­er­a­tion, but may not know the term for it and that’s al­low­able, surely, but un­ac­cept­able, when teach­ers plead ig­no­rance. Es­pe­cially, with “lit­tle l” form­ing part of the main­stream English syl­labus.

Un­like the ca­cophonous dis­as­ter above, al­lit­er­a­tions are meant to be eu­pho­nious in their al­liance. Af­ter sit­ting so snugly to­gether for ef­fect, many ac­quire col­lo­ca­tion sta­tus and sub­tly defy sep­a­ra­tion! These are part and par­cel of our ev­ery­day ex­pres­sion. Take smok­ing sec­tion; through thick and thin; race re­la­tions and re­li­gion; fright, fight or flight; rant and rave; live and learn; do or die; pub­lish or per­ish ... . Oth­ers are ... oh, so clev­erly crafted cre­ations to sur­prise, stim­u­late or in­spire, for our read­ing plea­sure!

Proud to be Malaysian? Ready to romp and roll through bits of lo­cal writ­ings for a sam­pling?

Star scoops

Some re­cent raves: Stoner stays solid, In­dia’s spec­tac­u­lar start to Com­mon­wealth Games (Oct 4); Friends for­ever, bo­som bud­dies (Edn, Oct 10); Re­ject racism (head­line, Oct 11); Bus’ brak­ing and steer­ing sys­tem (Oct 12); Scin­til­lat­ing samba (13 Oct); Sib­lings still ‘state­less’, hip hop her­itage (Oct 14); dank and dark, scream­ing in si­lence (Oct 15); Pri­vate push head­line (Oct 16).

See how Stargazer colum­nist and MOE con­trib­u­tor Hau Boon Lai de­scribes him­self – one who “pon­ders the lives, loves and lib­er­ties of celebri­ties.”

Catchy ads: “Re­hy­drate. Re­plen­ish. Re­fuel.” “Con­vene with con­ve­nience.”

“Guin­ness is good for you.”


(al­lit­er­a­tions not within quote marks are mine)

Cel­e­brated poet Ce­cil Ra­jen­dra’s early col­lec­tion in Hour Of As­sas­sins (Asian Edi­tion, 1988) car­ries some mem­o­rable al­lit­er­a­tive ti­tles: “Mag­got Mem­o­ries”; “Bans, Bombs and Ba­nanas”; “Barbs and Bougainvil­laea”; and sim­ply “My Mes­sage”. This line, ‘Let’s keep the prob­lem in proper/pro­por­tion’ in one poem, does re­minder duty in an­other,’but keep it per­sonal/and in pro­por­tion.’ He also de­fends death unto death in “De­fence”, ‘Yes, De­fence is Death & Death & Death/ for only death’s the ul­ti­mate de­ter­rent.’

Star­mag’s (Oct 10) Sarong style sto­ries saw me reach­ing out for an­other early col­lec­tion – Salleh Ben Joned’s al­lit­er­a­tive Sa­jak Sa­jak Saleh – Po­ems Sa­cred and Pro­fane (1987). The cover page paints a podgy pos­te­rior view of a woman wrapped in sarong, and strad­dled in a squat. From “A Hymn to my Sarong”, he takes ‘ ... soli­tary de­light/ drench­ing the di­aphanous sky.’ Then, as if in an ac­com­pa­ny­ing ap­parel, “The Se­len­dang of Death 1”, he ser­e­nades ‘... this se­len­dang of scar­let silk/... O, sa­cred se­len­dang, so soft and sturdy.’

Alina Ras­tam ( All the Beloveds, 2009), makes al­lit­er­a­tive “Con­tact” in ‘... af­ter the star­ing and the/seer­ing and the/sleep­ing and the not sleep­ing ... so sub­tle and so slight ... . In Diver & Other Po­ems (2007), her “Prayer” strips me ‘bar­ren and bare’ with an al­lit­er­a­tive wear of words, ‘ And when I am done, despatched/ dis­bur­dened; de­liv­ered with the dawn­ing at my door, ... .’ Af­ter much ‘kick­ing around the claims and clut­ter of a life ...’, along an al­ter­nat­ing al­lit­er­a­tively lit path where ‘leaves fall, some­times flar­ing with love­li­ness’, she fi­nally finds her unguent in the paean “To Po­etry”.

In The Mir­ror of a Hun­dred Hue” – A Mis­cel­lany (2001), Ghu­lam-Sar­war Yousof in “Death of an old ac­tor”, is hands-on with a sim­ple turn of repet­i­tive sounds, ‘Had he had time/ ... Would he have ab­jured/His one/And only love?’


In like man­ner, Kee Thuan Chye in March 8: The Day Malaysia Woke Up (2008), em­ploys an al­lit­er­a­tive stretch for ef­fect, ‘ We ... en­light­ened elec­torate who knew what we wanted.’ Ear­lier on, he has ‘ Hence the hus­tings.’

A quick dive into Dina Za­man’s I am Mus­lim (2007), and I scooped out ‘... smelled sweet flow­ers ... atop the hill a hut, ... heard dogs bay be­fore, ... stood there, stupidly, ... dogs snapped and scram­bled ... .’

A com­mon col­lec­tive used, harks back to the Old Tes­ta­ment Book of Ex­o­dus where Aaron and Hur stand ‘one on one side, one on the other,’ sup­port­ing Moses’ up­lifted arms.

Now, how many re­mem­ber the late Khor Cheang Kee? A pi­o­neer of Malaysian jour­nal­ism and one-time pop­u­lar colum­nist, he has left us his com­pi­la­tion of “Pe­nang Per­spec­tives” in My Is­land In The Sun (1995). In his in­tro­duc­tion, he records his late wife’s per­spec­tive from atop Pe­nang Hill: ‘ There is, she sighs, so much time here to stand and stare.’


K.S. Ma­niam’s play, The Cord (1983), has Ratnam wax lyrical: “I’m the prince, I’m the prince,/Prince of the place, prince of the times.” Mean­while, Mu­niandy’s fin­gers have the “power to paral­yse”. Mu­niandy also wants to have a “Man-to-man talk” with his son – an­other com­mon ex­pres­sion.

Tongue twis­ters – a trea­sure trove

I can’t even be­gin to re­late how, through cor­rec­tive repet­i­tive recita­tion these rhyth­mic pat­terns of speech can train your tongue to twist and turn so that words come “trip­pingly on the tongue”. Never mind Ham­let. Peter Piper ... any­one?

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