The Longest Sentence: Part One

The Longest Sentence – Part One

Note: some of the text of this sentence may affect your delicate sensibilities, if so, please look away now (James Joyce is no prude)

This is an ongoing project where I am exploring how to visualise the underlying grammar structure of a sentence. 

Because I don't do things by halves, I thought it might be best to start with the sentence that was the longest published sentence in the English language for most of the 20th century: Molly Bloom's soliloquy from James Joyce's Ulysses, which is 4,391 words long. 

Parsing the grammar for this stream-of-consciousness sentence isn't possible using a computer: it's such a tricky beast that assessment by hand is the only option. And that's what I did: using a grammar book, I've parsed this massive sentence using human calculation alone, and rendered it in pencil using the traditional sentence diagramming method that I was taught as part of my Catholic school upbringing in the US.

Shown above are various stages of the process: from dividing the sentence into more manageable sub-sentences, then drawing diagrams in a book, then re-drawing and refining these diagrams, then scanning them into the computer to make a diagram that is almost as big as three A0 prints.

So, that only took a year (and probably took two years off my life) ... the next goal is to colour-code all the different parts of speech and phrases, then possibly find a way of bringing it onto the computer (in ten years, hopefully).