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(1) In stylistics and poetics, a word or word group used in a figurative rather than a literal sense. More narrowly, a trope may be defined as a way of transferring a word’s meaning in order to achieve an aesthetically expressive effect in literary, rhetorical, and publicist language, as well as in everyday, scientific, and scholarly language and in advertisements. The aesthetically expressive effect achieved by the trope is the result of the use of imagery, of the functional and stylistic aptness of the elements of a given work, and of the profundity of the writer’s depiction. The writer’s relationship to tropes varies during different epochs, among different genres, and even in different parts of a single work. An abundance or scarcity of tropes in a work does not in itself testify to the work’s literary merit. However, by determining the linguistic form of an expression, a trope always gives form to a work’s content.
Both tropes and figures (figures of speech) were analyzed in works of classical and medieval poetics and rhetoric. In these works, tropes were regarded as reinterpreted figures, alongside the traditional figures of augmentation (repetition and its variants), reduction (ellipsis), and transposition (inversion).
Tropes have two levels of meaning, one literal and one figurative, or allegorical. However, it is impossible to make a clear-cut distinction between tropes and figures, since augmentation of meaning is also typical of figures, which are intonational and syntactic variants of word combinations. Such tropes as metonymy, metaphor, personification, symbol, and (occasionally) synecdoche, catachresis, and paronomasia have constituted a common feature of the works of outstanding authors and are also typical of the historical development of a common national language.
The highly detailed medieval works on poetics listed more than 200 types of tropes and figures. Many of the names that designated these tropes and figures are still used in modern literary studies. It would be impossible to define conclusively each type of trope and figure; the same is true of synonyms and homonyms when these are used to designate tropes. For example, the meanings of the words and expressions “verbal image, ” “allegory, ” “trope, ” “figurative meaning, ” “metaphor, ” and “symbol” are insufficiently delimited. The distinctions made between the trope and the figure are inconsistent, and consequently the two terms are often used synonymously. However, it is extremely difficult to develop a consistent system of relationships among the highly varied types of transferred meaning in words.
The traditional approach to tropes, which adheres to the method of detailed classification, does not take into account the actual and potential interaction of tropes and figures in literary works. This approach classifies similes and epithets as figures and consequently cannot specify the resemblances and differences between the metaphor-simile “the ruddy fists of apples” (E. Bagritskii) and its possible variations. These include “apples like ruddy fists” (simile), “the apples became ruddy fists” (metamorphosis), “ruddy fists” (that is, the apples—a typical metaphor), and “apples, [those] ruddy fists” (metaphoric periphrasis). Moreover, certain linguistic innovations of 20th-century literature are best described as examples of word formation and not as previously unknown and unused types of tropes and figures; an example is the visual trope.
Another approach to tropes and figures, developed in the 1960’s, is associated with structural linguistics and semiotics. This approach seeks to establish general principles whose application will make it possible to describe any contextual transformation of a word’s sound, meaning, or syntactic position. The new approach attempts to define precisely the meaning of each trope and to provide a complete listing of tropes. It seeks to establish a syntactic system of tropes that will specify existing and possible combinations of tropes. The new approach to tropes and figures also aims to describe the types of words and syntactic positions that provide the foundation for tropes and their combinations; without such a description it is impossible to create a pragmatic system of tropes, that is, to define their content in terms of social and ideological value judgments.
A uniform description of the varied functions of tropes would facilitate progress from an empirical analysis of tropes to the construction of a modern theory of tropes and figures as literary devices. Such a uniform description would also make it possible to trace the history of the trope as a subsystem of poetic language. The semiotic approach to art, which is valuable if only for its establishment of a general framework encompassing all types of art, has broadened the significance and applicability of many previously arbitrary definitions of tropes. For example, the concepts of metaphor and metonymy have been applied to the field of motion pictures. The theory of tropes and figures in its philological aspect is thus becoming of great importance in art studies.
In aesthetics, the association of the trope with the writer’s world view within the context of literary language has been insufficiently studied. It is clear, however, that differing authorial world views may be revealed in the choice of tropes, in the preference accorded to some tropes, in the relative frequency of tropes in different works, and in the absence or paucity of tropes.
(2) In religious hymnody a trope, or troparion, is a verse interpolated into a liturgical song. The term also refers to a melody used to embellish psalms or chorales. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, tropes were used beginning in the fifth century; in the Catholic Church they were used beginning in the ninth century. Tropes were originally short verses that introduced melodic phrases; they later became lengthy melodic sequences, often in the form of a dialogue. These sequences were the source of the liturgical drama. Tropes were associated with popular songs and were a means of introducing elements of such songs into church music. In the mid-16th century, the Council of Trent prohibited the use of tropes in Catholic church services.
(3) In the theory of musical composition developed by the Austrian composer M. J. Hauer, a trope is a twelve-tone group divided into two sections of six notes each. According to Hauer, there are 44 tropes in all; each differs in terms of its intervallic structure. The trope is used in 20th-century twelve-tone musical composition.
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