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De fyra elementen: En semantisk motivstudie i Gunnar Ekelöfs En Mölna-Elegi
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Scandinavian Languages.
2004 (Swedish)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)Alternative title
The four elements : A semantic motif study in Gunnar Ekelöf’s A Mölna Elegy (English)
Abstract [en]

The aim of this study is to examine the semantic architecture of the motif complex the four elements, i.e. fire, air, water and earth, in the Swedish poet Gunnar Ekelöf’s poem A Mölna Elegy (1960). The poem belongs to the same polyphonic and quotative-allusive tradition as T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Ezra Pound’s Cantos. The four elements may be regarded both as four separate motifs and as constituting one semantically coherent motif complex. The latter reading has to do with the fact that the phrase the four elements is not itself present in the text. Thus, the thesis includes the assumption that this motif complex, heavily suggested by items in the text but still omitted, might function as a text matrix, from which a number of themes emerge such as life–death and time.

The thesis has a theoretical anchoring in ideas about semantic frames (Barsalou) when discussing semantic relations between the different element-related words in the poem, and how these words may be linked to the concepts ‘fire’, ‘air’, water’ and ‘earth’ respectively. Traditional lexical relations such as hyponymy, antonymy and meronymy only catch the more obvious relations such as fire–glow, warm–cold and tree–branch, but are unable to explain pragmatically based relations between words linked to the same conceptual domain, such as sea–jetty, water–sink, fly–air and the like. To some extent, the thesis also draws upon Riffaterre’s theories about a poem’s matrix and how meaning arises in such texts.

A major finding of the study is the heavy lexical presence of the four elements in the poem, expressed and suggested by a great number of semantically heterogeneous words. This semantic pattern is analysed in detail with the aid of semantic frame theory. A further discovery is that most of the element words imply dichotomies such as motion–repose, warmth–cold, light–dark or soft–hard. The elements have most of the dichotomies in common, which strongly suggests a union of all the four elements. Such a union is also suggested by several conspicuous compounds never earlier recorded in Swedish, such as glödstänk (‘glowspray’), vindstänk (‘windspray’), eldsus (‘fire sough’) and vågsus (‘wave sough’). The meetings of element are also described at the syntactic level as an explicit amalgamation of all four elements, which suggests a theme not earlier noticed. This theme may tentatively be called the cyclical amalgamation.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis, 2004. , 286 p.
Stockholm studies in Scandinavian philology, ISSN 0562-1097 ; N.S., 35
Keyword [en]
lexical semantics, semantic frame theory, literary stylistics, poetry, Riffaterre, matrix, Barsalou, Swedish
National Category
Specific Languages
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-133ISBN: 91-22-02079-9OAI: diva2:189896
Public defence
2004-05-26, hörsal 8, hus D, Universitetsvägen 10, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
Available from: 2004-05-05 Created: 2004-05-05 Last updated: 2012-09-10Bibliographically approved

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