The polyptoton is a rhetorical stylistic device that appears in literary genres of all kinds. The polyptoton is the repetition of a word in different forms of inflection. This means that the word stem of the word is repeated but the appended endings are changed. The figure thus resembles the Figura etymologica.
The term can be derived from the Greek (πολύς ~ much, πτῶσις ~ case, case) and translate in about with multiplicity. As a result, the translation shows us what the stylistic figure is about: namely, different cases [in the repetition of a word]. Let us look at an example.
He says his opinion of his century, he says,
Again he says it loudly, she said and leaves.
The above example is taken from Schiller’s and Goethe’s Xenien, published in 1797 in the Musenalmanach (→ Literaturepochen). In both verses, we encounter an inflectional form of the verb. Once in the present tense in the third person singular (says) and in the second verse then in the preterite in the third person singular (said).
The verb saying was thus repeated in two different forms of inflection in a confined space. This is called polyptotone. Let us look at another example of the stylistic device.
If many a man knew,
Whoever was a man,
There were many men
Many a man
Sometimes a year.
This stanza from the Volksmund is interesting by the repetition and diffraction of the pronoun and the numerical word. This is used equally in the first three verses, but then strongly differs in the following lines, whereby the word stem, ie, many, is always preserved. This use is also called polyptotonic. A final example of the Stilfigur:
Sed ut tum ad senem senex de senectute,
sic hoc libro ad amicum amicissimus scripsi de amicitia.
Just as I had told an old man about the age of old age,
so in this book a friend as the closest friend about the friendship.
The above example is taken from Cicero Laelius de Amicitia, a philosophical work on friendship. In the cut the style figure is found twice, once in the bent repetition of the friend and also with the old man. Obviously, the word stem is preserved, which is why we can see that the polyptoton is always a member of a word family.
Polyptoton and Figura etymologica
Although the stylist resembles various figures based on the principle of word repetition, it is most similar to the Figura etymologica, which is a special case of the polyptone.
The Figura etymologica describes the immediate repetition of two words with the same or similar word stem, which, however, belong to different types of words. In most cases, it is verb and noun. There is a good example of this in the third verse from Goethe’s Erlkönig.
“You dear child, come, go with me!
I play beautiful games with you;
Many colorful flowers are on the beach;
My mother has many garments of gold. ”
Note: Basically the figurea etymologica is about word sequences which are etymologically related and thus have the same origin (word root). In practice, however, only the same word stems are usually recognized, since the etymological context of reading is in most cases unclear or difficult to conceive (for example, Duke and Witness are etymologically related).
Effect and function of the polyotone
In principle, it is difficult to ascribe to a stylistic device a very clear function or mode of action. Here, we run the risk of always reducing the style figure and not paying attention to whether it really is. Nevertheless, we give hints.
Short overview of the style figure
The polyptoton is the repetition of several words which are based on the same stem of the word and appear in different forms of inflection. Thus, the etymological figure is a special case of stylistic means.
Like all other figures, which are based on repeating words or word sequences, the polyptoton can naturally amplify a statement and thus increase the urgency of a phrase. Accordingly, the statement intensity can be increased.
The special case of the polyptoton, that is, the figurative etymologica, is referred to in modern linguistics as a cognate object. A cognate object is a phrase whose nominal kernel is morphologically and / or semantically related to the governing verb and expresses an event or condition (Ex: dream dream ~ verb expresses a state).