A grammar lesson from rock n’ roll

Today is gonna be the day…that people all around the world celebrate music.

It’s World Music Day today (thank you, France, for starting this). Unfortunately we don’t really recognize this day in Australia, but I want to celebrate by looking at the grammar of a classic 90s rock song: ‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis.

Ok the 90s are over now, but I would be very surprised if you have never heard this song. If you have never heard it, here it is:

And here are the lyrics to the chorus:

And all the roads we have to walk are winding
And all the lights that lead us there are blinding
There are many things that I would
Like to say to you
But I don’t know how

Because maybe
You’re gonna be the one that saves me
And after all
You’re my wonderwall

 

Let’s look at the grammar of the second line.

And all the lights that lead us there are blinding

This is a clause. It is made up of words. The main noun is ‘lights’. So the basic meaning of the clause is:

lights are blinding

This is also a clause, made up of words:

Rankshift table 1

See how the clause box is bigger than the noun box? This is because a clause is a bigger unit than a word. We can say a clause has a higher rank than a word.

We can pack extra meaning into words by adding extra words into the boxes. For example:

Rankshift table 2

I added the prepositional phrase from the helicopter to the noun lights. So now lights from the helicopter is a noun group (also called nominal group).

You can see that the clause box is still bigger than the noun group box. This is because a clause is still a bigger unit than a group. A clause has a higher rank than a group.

 

But there are no helicopters in the song. In the song, it’s a different kind of light.

Imagine we are going somewhere and maybe it’s dark. We can see where we are going because there are some lights. We follow these lights to get to our destination. The song packs all of this information into the noun lights:

Rankshift table 3

The clause box at the bottom is still bigger than the noun group box. This is because the clause still has a higher rank than the group.I added the clause that lead us there to the noun lights. I made a noun group.

But can you also see the small clause box? This shows that the clause that lead us there is now part of the noun group. The rank of this clause has shifted down to the rank of the group. This is rank-shifting.

 

Are you still with me? Thank you for reading to the end. We have looked at one example of rank-shifting in the song, but actually there are 3 more examples. Can you find them?

By the way if you want to see a video that explains rank-shifting (see what I did?) click here:

Happy World Music Day!