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The trope concept, which is used increasingly in the social sciences to conceptualize the dynamics of definitions (and redefinitions) of social situations involved in communicative interaction, is derived from the Greek tropos (a turning), tropë (a turn), or trepein (to turn). It has long been used as a technical term in rhetoric to designate the use of a word or expression in a different sense than that which properly belongs to it in order to give liveliness, emphasis, perspective, coloration, or some other quality to an idea. The figures of speech (metaphor, metonym, synecdoche, and irony) are the four main categories of tropes, although tropes have been multitudinously identified in treatises on rhetoric.

The Tropes in Classical Rhetoric

At issue here is the very human tendency when thinking about some difficult, banal, or obscure subject to think about something else that can enliven, offer perspective on, or cast light on the subject. Although a tropologist is anyone interested in the role figures of speech play in discourse, in the social sciences tropology is an interest in how such figurative expression can be used persuasively to affect the understanding of social situations and consequently effect social interaction. A basic question is what role figures of speech play in the figuring out and playing out of human life in society as, mainly, a playing out of categories of social belonging and social differentiation. As can be seen in the Greek root of the word, the use of tropes, these turnings of thought, raises the question of mutability in society and its susceptibility to persuasion and change of direction. Contemporary tropologists are particularly interested in the plotting of this dynamic.

The trope concept, and the rhetorical disciplines in general, have long been opposed by the exponents of clearly reasoned argument and of explicit syllogistic logic whose truth can be ascertained. These exponents dislike the volatility and obscurity that figures of speech bring into any argument. They have misgivings about the enthymemic qualitythat is, the truncated syllogisms of rhetorical argumentcaused by the use of the tropes. These objections were first raised by Plato (c. 428348 or 347 b.c.e.) in various dialogues with the Sophists, the professional rhetoricians of his time. Socrates (c. 470399 b.c.e.) questioned the Sophists' practice of the arts of persuasion, in which belief and opinion were manipulated but what he considered true knowledge, obtained through the dialectic, was neglected. Nevertheless, Aristotle (384322 b.c.e.), in both the Poetics and the Rhetoric, considers rhetoric the counterpart of logic and an offshoot of the dialectic, although he focuses on metaphor and not on the overarching concept of the trope as a whole. He holds rhetoric to be worthy of attention and study, particularly in the education of the young. Indeed, in the classical world, training in the rhetorical arts of speaking, persuading, and debating was the hallmark of elite education. This is seen both in Marcus Tullius Cicero (10643 b.c.e.; De Oratore ) and in the massive rhetorical treatise (essentially a schoolbook) De Institutione Oratoria or On the Education of the Orator, by Marcus Fabius Quintilian (c. 35c. 100 c.e.). By "the orator," Quintilian meant scions of the patrician classes destined by birth to become persuasive in public affairs and naturally endowed to give shape and order to society. Important sections of this massive work are devoted to the various tropes and to the associated figures of speech that lie at the heart of rhetorical power and persuasion.

The idea of the trope and of studying the trope as affective and effective in public argumentthat is, the idea of a science of tropologywas both appreciated and disliked by the ancients. The negative view of employing tropes in argument, which is that they confuse more than they enlighten, continues into the early modern period and is found in René Descartes (15961650), Thomas Hobbes (15881679), and John Locke (16321704), and can still be found in the present. Whereas the Cartesian, Hobbesian, and Lockian views first articulate early modern misgivings about the obfuscating role of the tropes and figures of speech in reasoned argument, other early moderns, such as Giambattista Vico (16681744) in the New Science (1725), argued that it was the tropes that enabled human understanding, or at least the escape from misunderstanding. Vico argued that a poetic logic existed in the creation and conduct of human life as it has evolved through the stages of civilization, and that studying the use and effect of the various tropes in discourse was central to understanding that logic and that evolution.

Vico devised an etymological method for discovering the tropes that were the source of our understanding of the world and of ourselves and whose evolutionary dynamic accounted for the cycle of civilization. His method is similar to the "genealogical method" developed by Friedrich Nietzsche (18441900) in The Genealogy of Morals (1897), through which he sought to discover the metaphors that lie behind the mummified concepts that we take as objective and direct representations of the world. For Nietzsche, all conceptualizing is willfully metaphoric, and it would follow that tropology is the only method through which to understand the springs of our thinking and its dynamic of power in human relations over time. His stark observations on the metaphoric basis of any supposedly secure metaphysical belief have become classics:

What then is truth? A movable host of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished, and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical, and binding. (1979, p. 23)

The Tropes in Contemporary Thought

Nietzsche's tropological approach to human understanding is echoed in subsequent thought, and especially in such postmodern thinkers as Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault and in postmodern deconstructionism. This late-twentieth-century work is co-occurrent with the revival of interest in Vico and his tropology in the 1960s and 1970s. The tropological theories of the historian Hayden White are notable here. White echoes Nietzsche's assertion in The Use and Abuse of History (1957) that historical writing is not a window enabling us to directly perceive historical reality but rather a perspectival screen always obstructing our view of the past in its particular way, according to the persona and preferences of the historian. In Metahistory (1973), White examines the great historians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Edward Gibbon (17371794), Alexis de Tocqueville (18051859), Thomas Babington Macaulay (18001859), Jules Michelet (17981874), Jacob Burckhardt (18181897), and Leopold von Ranke (17951886), showing how each had a particularly powerful poetic grasp of the part of the past that interested him and how this grasp was a function of the particular poetic tropes that he found evocative and helpful in organizing his thoughts. These tropological screens, or "governing metaphors," of historical writing acted in the particular historian to more or less self-consciously include or eliminate data from consideration. Historical understanding is thus anchored in the constraints exercised by the tropes the historian chooses.

White's work was accompanied in the seventies and eighties by tropological approaches to both anthropology and cognitive linguistics. Beginning in the collection The Social Use of Metaphor (1977) edited by David Sapir and Christopher Crocker, anthropologists gradually worked toward analyzing the role of the various tropes as they played off or interacted with each other in social life and culture. This interactive tropology, the authors in this collection argued, was useful in developing a more sensitive anthropological ethnographythat is, the study of the dynamics of "communicative interaction" in society and culture. Cognitive linguists, working over a twenty-year period that began in 1980, developed a linguistic theory of the logic behind the figuration of human understanding as anchored in bodily experience and projected out on the world. This is a theory sharply contesting the objectivist and rationalist paradigms in philosophy and in its way an actualization in cognitivist terms of Vico's efforts to identify the poetic logic of life in civilization. Cognitivists pay particular attention to the effect this logic has on the categorization processes in cognition, an emphasis that is congenial to anthropologists interested in the social categorization processes in culture and social relations.

The trope concept is an integral part of an enduring debate about the role of the figurative both in human communication and in bringing about social and cultural change. Cultures may vary in their stability over time, but all cultures are dynamic to one degree or another and can be persuaded to change the structure of their social relationships and turn in a new direction. The degree to which the tropesthemselves micro-turnings of thoughtare influential in these macro-level social turnings has been a central question of tropology.

See also Iconography ; Ideas, History of ; Postmodernism ; Rhetoric .



Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. A Genealogy of Morals. Translated by William A. Haussmann. New York: Macmillan, 1897.

. Philosophy and Truth: Selections from Nietzsche's Notebooks of the Early 1870's. Translated by Daniel Breazeale. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities, 1979.

. The Use and Abuse of History. Translated by Adrian Collins. New York: Liberal Arts, 1957.

Quintilian, Marcus Fabius. Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory; or, Education of an Orator. 12 vols. Translated by John Selby Watson. London: H. G. Bohn. 1856.

Vico, Giambattista. The New Science of Giambattista Vico. 1744. Translated by Thomas Bergin and Max Fisch. Reprint, Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1948.


Fernandez, James W., ed. Beyond Metaphor: The Theory of Tropes in Anthropology. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1991.

Fernandez, James W. Persuasions and Performances: The Play of Tropes in Culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.

Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

. Philosophy in the Flesh. The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought. New York: Basic, 1999.

Lakoff, George. Women, Fires, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About the Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Sapir David, and Christopher Crocker, eds. The Social Use of Metaphor: Essays on the Anthropology of Rhetoric. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1977.

White, Hayden V. "The Burden of History." In his Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978.

. Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973.

James W. Fernandez

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A relatively free but appropriate musical text interpolated in the authorized liturgy of the Roman rite during the period between the ninth and 12th centuries. The interpolation, which may be purely melodic or a melody with a text, functions as an amplification, embellishment, or intercalation in the official text but in no way changes the identity of the text itself. Neither is the material of the addition, although a new creation in both text and music, capable of artistic existence separate from the liturgical text whose handmaid it was intended to be. Only the antiphonal texts of the Proper of the Mass (Introit, Offertory, Communion) and some choral chants of the Mass Ordinary (Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei ) normally received text interpolation of this kind. In this article the substantive "trope" (from the Greek τρόπος) will refer to an object, an end product of a process of liturgical adaptation, and the verb "to trope" will refer to the process of interpolating upon an official text of the liturgy in any way, musically or verbally. Among the processes used from the ninth to the 12th centuries the following may be listed: 1. Addition of melodic extensions to the end of each phrase of an official liturgical piece; 2. Addition of a preface to an extant chant; 3. Addition of new text and new melody to existing chants.

Essentially all these processes were generated by the poetic sentiment of the official text. When this text has been expanded as a result of a fresh dramatic or lyrical response, the new musical introduction or continuation may display artistic vocal declamation reminiscent of the classic period of Gregorian composition. Not concerned with the meaning and the representation of separate words, the composers of tropes expressed their lyrical or dramatic responses like their predecessors in shaped phrases that projected the idea of the whole in a single stream of melody. These shaped phrases of the trope reflect the same syntactical structure as plainsong.

At approximately the same period in the history of liturgy, and largely in the same centers in which the trope originated, another process of liturgical amplification was yielding a distinct and separate repertory of paraliturgical elaboration designated as sequence, prosa or prosula. This second process marked an opposite direction in artistic creation and yielded amplifications that should not be confused with the tropes. Creatively the trope artist moved from the defined sentiment of a canonical text to a new but dependent expressionthe trope. In the sequence process the artist moved from an unarticulated musical sentiment to a new text that became an autonomous expression.

At a period in the history of Gregorian chant when the official repertory had already been fixed, many of the new pieces resulting from either sequence or trope process were recorded, if at all, in unofficial collections possessing the technical generic name troper. As supplements to the official books, these collections contain examples of all that has been preserved of the new developments in the music of the liturgy between the ninth and 12th centuries.

Two traditions. Music scientists normally divide the existing manuscripts of Latin liturgical books, whether official or unofficial, into two general categories: the French or West Frankish tradition and the German or East Frankish tradition. The official books contained the repertory of music and prayers imposed by the Church for the canonical celebration of the liturgy. Of these books only those pertaining to the Mass and the Divine Office (see liturgy of the hours)the Gradual and the Antiphonale will concern us here. The unofficial books contained the music and poetry that medieval artists added to the fixed repertory of the official books. These latter artifacts, while indeed adapted to particular occasions and usages, never achieved canonical rank. The greatest concentration of manuscripts of the French tradition was stored in the Abbey of Saint Martial at Limoges in France, and that of the German tradition, in the Abbey of Saint Gall (sankt gallen) in Switzerland. The terms "French" and "German" used here to characterize particular traditions are generic conveniences rather than geographical precisions. To the French provenance, for example, belong some tropers of English and perhaps Spanish origin; and to the German provenance, some tropers of Italian and perhaps eastern European origin.

The French group of manuscripts is often referred to as the St. Martial Repertory and some of the earliest manuscripts involved are the following: Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale fonds lat. 1240 (Limoges); Paris, B.N. fonds lat. 1120 (Limoges); Paris, B.N. fonds lat. 1121 (Limoges); Oxford, Bodl. 775 (Winchester); Paris, B.N. fonds lat. 1118 (Southern France). The German group of manuscripts containing the Saint Gall Repertory has been studied by schubiger, Gaultier and Van den Steinen.

Among early examples of this repertory are the following: St. Gall 484 (St. Gall); Vienna 1609 (St. Gall); London, British Museum Add. 19768 (Mainz? St. Alban), St. Gall 381 (St. Gall). Whatever their origin or provenance, tropes in the early tropers have some traits in common. Whether melodic and textual or purely melodic additions, the style of both the poetry and the music suggests that they are new compositions. They function with the new text in such a way, however, that the integrity of the official text, as well as its musical and textual identity, is both preserved and artistically amplified in its new context.

Words and music. The poetry of the trope has been dealt with in several monumental editions. The editorial decision to give only incipits of the official texts in these editions has distorted the aesthetic impression. The economic consideration that likely prompted the decision is clear; the practice itself, however, tends either to deemphasize the official text by taking it for granted or to overemphasize the new text by suggesting that its aesthetic character is to function independently of the official text. The implied shift of emphasis in either direction thwarts the precise balance between the two extremes, which was the perfection of the trope in its classic moment. History testifies to the fact that when in practice this aesthetic of liturgical amplification and dependence upon the text was taken over by other musical practices in the liturgy (for example, polyphony), the trope as an aesthetic object in its classic sense ceased to exist. It left the liturgical ground and began to develop in an independent direction. In this attempt it failed. In its failure, however, the trope helped to solidify and stabilize its already existing and independent counterpart, the sequence and to develop a new independent form, the liturgical drama. In its independence, on the other hand, it was unable to retain its classic identity or to survive as an aesthetic object.

While an aural awareness of the aesthetic logic characterizing the trope is important for the text, it is more important for the music. The musical ear can test stylistic consistency, good continuation and a feeling for unity and diversity within the parts. As an object to be experienced through hearing, the trope was constructed to appeal to the listener. Inspired by the traditional texts and saturated with the atmosphere, artistry and technical sophistication of the original Gregorian melodies, trope composers produced genuine artifacts to meet the needs of the time. Their creations had aesthetic as well as human appeal. The tradition they enshrined with fresh lyricism acquired a value appreciated for its own sake by creator and listener. In remounting the familiar, composers created suspensions and anticipations in the new which they later resolved or fulfilled in the familiar. Didactic, persuasive, or instructional purposes of the traditional texts were so highlighted in their surroundings that their practical purpose was less noticed than their aesthetic quality.

The music of the trope provides a multiplicity of textures covering the entire spectrum of vocal possibilities from melismatic textless melodies on one extreme to syllabic melodies with text at the other. A striking preponderance of neumatic textures characterizes the trope of the classical period. The musical additions function always as integral musical units with the official text and the contextual relation between old and new are aural rather than visual. When examining some antiphonal chants of the Proper, one is struck by the classical balance between words and music. The texts are normally well-wrought sentences in shape and syntax, and the prevailing neumatic tune grows out of that sentence structure, describing the same line with amplitude of melody. The earliest tropes set to some of these antiphonal chants match this texture. During the late Middle Ages, amplifications that entered into artistic dialogue with traditional pieces preserved a dynamic relation to the poetic and musical artistry of the original. They achieved their own artistic value because they were forms appropriate to function with the original and to objectify tradition at the personal creative level. The character of the entire structure was given by the tradition, then continued, intensified, or brought into relief by the music and the poetry of the addition.

In a prevailingly syllabic official text the addition tends to be melismatic and vice versa. Since the antiphonal chants usually lie between these extremes, aesthetic unity seems to have directed the composer to choose a corresponding neumatic texture for the trope also. When, as frequently happens, the addition begins in a tonality different from the official text, it may come to a point of momentary arrival on a word of grammatical punctuation (for example, dicentes, exclamantes ) and at a pitch level that functions as a pivotal tone between the two tonalities. At other times a seamless passage is achieved by avoiding all arrival points in the new. Introductory tropes, often deceptively extended beyond possible arrival points, delay the anticipated and heighten tension. The created tension of the new in these latter two cases is resolved in the flow of the traditional that follows. The trope Hodie Cantandus, for the third (Puer Natus ) Mass of Christmas, may serve as an example of the first of these devices. The trope, prevailingly in the Dorian mode on D, cadences on the pitch G (praedixit ), the tonal center both of the transposed Dorian and the Mixolydian mode, the mode in which the official chant continues. The musical example is printed in Laudes festivae, ed., B. Reiser (2d ed. Rome 1940) 206207.

Two other examples from more recent publications may serve as objects to test other criteria here offered. The first is the trope Invice nos Stephani, for the Etenim sederunt Introit of St. Stephen.

Invice nos Stephani, Dominum pulsando canamus: Eia!
[Etenim sederunt princi]pes, Supra cathedram malignis suffultam testimoniis.
[et adversum me loqueban] tur: Istic homo loqui blasphema numquam desinit in legem.
[et iniqui persecuti sunt] me: Ne morte quidem vel sepulchro communi dignum me ducentes.
[adjuva me, Domine Deus] meus, Qui solus es adiutor in tribulationis supremis.[quia servus tuus exercebatur in tuis justificationibus].
[Ps. Beati immaculati in via: qui ambulant in lege] Domini. Quam iste adeo servavit ut morti pro ipsa succubuerit.
[v. Gloria Patri ]
[r. Sicut erat saeculorum.] Amen. Cujus hic trinitatis assertor meruit coronam sanguine.
[Weakland, 486487]

Here is a graphic interplay of an official text in neumatic style garlanded by a trope that at times is purely syllabic and at times purely melismatic. Using the first letters of each of these words (N)eumatic, (S)yllabic,(M)elismatic, one can also visualize what is audible in performancethe balanced succession of contrasting style between syllabic and melismatic polarities.


The second is the trope Cunctipotens dominator for the Kyrie of Mass XIV in the Kyriale. Here the text has been replaced by a syllabic one. The piece has been transformed by a creative process that moves from text to melody, a direction opposite that of the trope that essentially finds its unity of style in heterogeneity. This, then, is actually a prosula rather than a trope.

For methodological convenience the editors of Anal Hymn (v. 47 and 49) grouped all text interpolations of Gradual chants into tropes of the Proper (Tropi Graduales ad Proprium Missarum ) or tropes of the Ordinary (Tropi Graduales ad Ordinarium Missae ). Only the interpolations to the Introit, Offertory and Communion Antiphons of the Proper were called tropes in the Gradual sources. So-called Ordinary tropes are designated by a variety of terms: Prosae ad Kyrieleison; Versus super Sanctus; Laudes de Agnus Dei. This variety suggests a common aesthetic movement, from melody to some kind of verbalization. By the end of the 11th century medieval artists had begun to choose other means of defining the relevance of contemporary feelings to the tradition of the Church. Both of the earlier aesthetics were changed, but whereas the independent sequence and prosula were reorganized, the dependent trope was replaced. Polyphony, like the trope, was a listener's art. As an embellishment that amplified the sound of the text yet depended upon the text for its musical character, polyphony was structured to appeal to the senses of the people in their own churches, which had emerged as cathedrals in the new parochial schema. The trope, meanwhile divorced from its liturgical connection and failing to achieve aesthetic independence, continued to contribute to a number of independent forms, especially those that, like the drama, were related to the audience as listeners and viewers.

Bibliography: j. handschin, "Trope, Sequence, and Conductus," New Oxford History of Music, ed., j. a. westrup, 11 v. (New York 1957) 2:128174. g. reese, Music in the Middle Ages, (New York 1940). c. blume, Tropen des Missale im Mittelalter, 2v. Analecta hymnica, 47, 49; 190506). j. chailley, L'École musicale de St. Martial de Limoges (Paris 1960). The Winchester Troper, ed., w. a. frere, (London 1894). l. gautier, Les Tropes, v.1 of Histoire de la poésie liturgique au moyen âge (Paris 1886). a. schubiger, Die Sängerschule St. Gallens (Einsiedeln 1858). w. von den steinen, Notker der Dichter und seine geistige Welt, 2v. (Bern 1948). p. evans, "Some Reflections on the Origin of the Trope," Journal of the American Musicological Society 14 (1961) 119130. r. weakland, "The Beginnings of Troping," Musical Quarterly 44 (1958) 477488. b. stÄblein, "Die Unterlegung von Texten unter Melismen," International Musicological Society: Report of the Eighth Congress, 2 v. (Basel 1961) 1:1229.

[e. leahy/eds.]

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TROPE, also turn of phrase. In RHETORIC, both an expression that deviates from the natural and literal through a change in meaning, often with a pleasing effect, and the device or technique that makes such a change possible. For the Roman rhetorician Quintilian, tropes were metaphors and metonyms, etc., and figures (figurae) were such forms of discourse as rhetorical questions, digression, repetition, antithesis, and periphrasis (also referred to as schemes). He noted that the two kinds of usage were often confused (a state of affairs that has continued to the present day). In the 18c, the term became associated with over-ornate style and fell into disrepute when a plainer style came to be preferred. As a result, what were once known as tropes and figures are now generally called figures of speech or, more broadly still, rhetorical devices. See FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE, FIGURE OF SPEECH.

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1. Interpolations in plainsong words, resulting either in mus. melisma on one note or a fragment of new melody. Practice flourished from 9th to 15th cent., was abused, and finally banned by Tridentine reform. Survived only as the sequence (trope set to final melisma of Alleluia).

2. Term used by Hauer to describe 44 pairs of unordered hexachords which are basis of his version of 12-note technique.

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trope (rhet.) use of a word or phrase in a sense not proper to it, figure of speech XVI; (liturg.) phrase introduced into the text for musical embellishment XIX. — L. tropus figure of speech — Gr. trópos turn, rel. to trépein vb. turn.
So troper book of tropes. OE. tropere — medL. troperium, var. of tropārium.

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tropeaslope, cope, dope, elope, grope, hope, interlope, lope, mope, nope, ope, pope, rope, scope, slope, soap, taupe, tope, trope •myope • telescope • periscope •stereoscope • bioscope • stroboscope •kaleidoscope • CinemaScope •gyroscope • microscope • horoscope •stethoscope • antelope • envelope •zoetrope • skipping-rope • tightrope •towrope • heliotrope • lycanthrope •philanthrope • thaumatrope •misanthrope •isotope, radioisotope