Syntactic Dislocation in English Congregational Song between 1500 and 1900

A Corpus-based Study

by Kirsten Gather (Author)
©2014 Thesis XIV, 258 Pages
Series: English Corpus Linguistics, Volume 14


A famous English hymn does not start with He who would be valiant, but He who would valiant be with valiant in dislocated position in the clause. The aim of this study is to analyse syntactic dislocation in English congregational song between 1500 and 1900 and to examine its motivations and developments. Poetic factors, like metre and rhyme, can be assumed as primary causes. Moreover, two contrasting dislocation patterns emerge, which show the interplay of poetic requirements and syntactic criteria. The first pattern occurs mainly in metrical psalms, while the second pattern is typical of hymns. With these patterns as a basis of comparison, syntactic dislocation is a decisive factor that makes congregational song conservative both compared to secular poetry and to religious prose.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Spelling conventions
  • Abbreviations
  • 1 Introduction
  • 1.1 Aims of this study
  • 1.2 Limits of this study
  • 1.3 This study in the context of previous research
  • 1.4 The structure of this thesis
  • 2 Syntactic Dislocation
  • 2.1 The nomenclature of this study
  • 2.2 The constituent order of English
  • 2.2.1 Old English
  • 2.2.2 Middle English
  • 2.2.3 Early Modern English
  • 2.2.4 Present Day English
  • 2.2.5 Summary
  • 2.3 Definition and subtypes of syntactic dislocation
  • 2.3.1 Definition of syntactic dislocation
  • 2.3.2 The syntactic dislocation of objects
  • 2.3.3 The syntactic dislocation of complements
  • The dislocation of the subject complement
  • The dislocation of the object complement
  • 2.3.4 The syntactic dislocation of obligatory adverbials
  • 2.3.5 Evidence from contemporaries
  • 2.4 Summary
  • 3 Poetic Factors and Rhetorical Devices
  • 3.1 Metre
  • 3.1.1 Classification
  • 3.1.2 Variability in the syllable structure of words
  • 3.1.3 How to assess metrical constraints
  • 3.2 Rhyme
  • 3.2.1 Classification
  • 3.2.2 Pronunciation matters
  • 3.2.3 How to assess dislocations due to rhyme
  • 3.3 Figures of Speech
  • 3.3.1 Hyperbaton
  • 3.3.2 Parallelism
  • 3.3.3 Chiasmus
  • 3.3.4 Emphasis
  • 3.4 The mystery of biblical Hebrew poetry
  • 3.5 Summary
  • 4 The History of Congregational Singing in England
  • 4.1 “there may be songe an hymne, or such lyke songe” – Some terminological issues
  • 4.1.1 The Song
  • 4.1.2 The Hymn
  • 4.1.3 Psalms and their metrical paraphrases
  • 4.1.4 The Canticle
  • 4.1.5 Definition of congregational song
  • 4.1.6 Terminological confusion
  • 4.2 Metrical Psalms in England before the Reformation
  • 4.3 ‘Hardware reset’ – The impact of the Reformation on English congregational song
  • 4.4 Metrical Psalmody – The musical reformation of congregational song in the 16th century
  • 4.5 “Out-Sternholding Sternhold” – The 17th century between the Old and the New Version
  • 4.6 From Watts to Wesley – The subtle beginning of hymn singing in the 18th century
  • 4.7 Hymns Ancient and Modern – Preserving and remodelling hymns in the 19th century
  • 4.8 “20th-Century Blues” – The legacy of hymnody, and the ‘Hymn Explosion’
  • 4.9 “like a crack’d saints’ bell jarring in the steeple” – The relationship between text and music
  • 4.10 Summary
  • 5 The Corpus of Congregational Song
  • 5.1 Compilation of the corpus
  • 5.1.1 Design parameters
  • 5.1.2 Word count
  • 5.1.3 Selection criteria of authors and texts
  • 5.2 Description of the corpus
  • 5.2.1 Overview
  • 5.2.2 Description of selected authors and songbooks
  • The 16th century
  • The 17th century
  • The 18th century
  • The 19th century
  • 5.2.3 Chronological gaps and clusters
  • 5.3 Summary
  • 6 Analysis
  • 6.1 Methodological and terminological preliminaries
  • 6.1.1 Statistical methods
  • Percentage calculation: Identifying the basic population
  • Other statistical terminology
  • Statistical significance of the data
  • Correlation analysis
  • 6.1.2 Exceptions from the counting process
  • Counting dislocated objects
  • Counting dislocated complements
  • Counting dislocated adverbials
  • Split constituents
  • 6.2 Overall results
  • 6.2.1 The 16th century
  • 6.2.2 The 17th century
  • 6.2.3 The 18th century
  • 6.2.4 The 19th century
  • 6.2.5 The complete chronology
  • 6.3 The impact of poetic factors and rhetorical devices
  • 6.3.1 Metre and rhyme
  • 6.3.2 Rhetorical devices
  • 6.4 Syntactic analyses
  • 6.4.1 The three subtypes of syntactic dislocation
  • 6.4.2 Constituent order
  • 6.4.3 The role of auxiliaries
  • 6.4.4 The length of the dislocated constituent
  • 6.4.5 The internal phrase structure of the dislocated constituent
  • The phrase structure of dislocated objects
  • The phrase structure of dislocated complements
  • The phrase structure of dislocated obligatory adverbials
  • 6.5 The connection between syntactic criteria and poetic factors
  • 6.5.1 Object dislocation revisited
  • 6.5.2 Complement dislocation revisited
  • 6.5.3 Dislocation of obligatory adverbials revisited
  • 6.6 Summary
  • 7 Comparison: Syntactic dislocation in other genres
  • 7.1 Possible origins
  • 7.1.1 English Bible translations
  • 7.1.2 Middle English verse
  • 7.1.3 Early Modern English verse: ballads
  • 7.2 Object dislocation in Early and Late Modern English secular poetry
  • 7.3 Summary
  • 8 Conclusion
  • 8.1 Syntactic dislocation in congregational song
  • 8.2 Syntactic dislocation and religious language
  • 8.3 The results of this study in the light of corpus and text linguistics
  • 8.4 Outlook
  • Appendices
  • Appendix A
  • Appendix B
  • Appendix C
  • Appendix D
  • List of References
  • Corpus Texts
  • Other Primary Sources
  • Secondary Literature
  • Online Resources
  • Series Index

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Spelling conventions

All in all, the spelling of the original sources has been maintained. This also comprises capitalization and punctuation. Some exceptions were made, however:

To facilitate legibility, abbreviations that contain a superscript letter or a tilde are resolved, e.g. wt → with, wh → when. The ampersand (&) is replaced by and.

In verse texts, line breaks were adjusted to line ends in poetry. This especially applies to those first stanzas of congregational songs which were printed together with a musical score. In these cases, boundaries of verse lines and line ends do not necessarily correspond in the original.

In citations in which folio numbers are used, the pages are referred to by recto (right page) and verso (left page), e.g. fol. A.iir.


| 1 →

1 Introduction

(1) PSALM C.
Jubilate Deo.
O all you landes, the treasures of your joy,
In merry shout upon the Lord bestow:
Your service cheerfully on him imploy,
With triumph song into his presence goe.

(Sidney Herbert 1599)

These first lines of the 100th psalm, versified by Mary Sidney Herbert, are difficult to understand when read or heard for the first time. The main reason for this is the ‘unexpected’ order of the clause constituents.

All three main verbs, bestow, imploy, and goe, are situated at the ends of clauses, while a different constituent order is expected. Since all three clauses are imperatives, the verbs do not need an explicit subject. However, bestow, for instance, requires a direct object (the treasures of your joy) and an adverbial denoting the recipient of the action (upon the Lord). Due to the syntactic rules of English, both of these constituents must follow the verb, instead of preceding it (see Quirk 1985: 50, 53).1

So regarding syntactic expectations, the stanza would look as in (1b), while (1a) gives Mary Sidney Herbert’s version (underlined constituents are required by the verb):

(1a) O all you landes, the treasures of your joy,
In merry shout upon the Lord bestow:
Your service cheerfully on him imploy,
With triumph song into his presence goe.

(1b) O all you landes, bestow the treasures of your joy
upon the Lord in merry shout:
Imploy your service cheerfully on him,
goe into his presence with triumph song.
← 1 | 2 →

Why would the author alter the order of the clause constituents when it violates syntactic rules and reduces comprehensibility?

A first and obvious reason is rhyme. The text is written in four-line stanzas with the rhyme scheme ABAB: joy rhymes with imploy, and bestow with goe. Rhyme in this case seems to overrule syntactic requirements.

A further imaginable reason are metrical constraints. In the above example, all four lines of the stanza contain ten syllables, and every second syllable is stressed. Reordering the clause constituents according to syntactic rules might disrupt this sequence of unstressed and stressed syllables. The last line of the stanza is an example of this: Supposing that the preposition into receives stress on the second syllable2, With triumph song into his presence goe has regular stresses on every second syllable. The repositioned alternative, goe into his presence with triumph song, however, does not follow the regular pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables3:

   ˇ  ˇ  ˇ  ˇ  ˇ 
(2a) regular pattern: With triumph song into his presence goe
    ˇ  ˇ  ˇ ˇ  ˇ 
(2b) irregular pattern: goe into his presence with triumph song

Apparently, both rhyme and metre can play a role in reordering clause constituents.

Another reason for constituent movement, although less obvious, might be the application of rhetorical devices, or figures of speech. Certain constituents are perhaps regrouped for stylistic reasons. Example (3a) contains a repositioned object, but the clause in (3b) would work perfectly with respect to metre and rhyme:

(3a) The mornings voice Thou mak’st rejoice,

(Barton 1644)

(3b) Thou mak’st rejoice the mornings voice ← 2 | 3 →

Barton assumedly wants to emphasize the object by fronting it. In this case, emphasis is a rhetorical device that might cause the dislocation of clause constituents.

Principally, one must clearly distinguish between prose and verse when examining word order. Comparing Mary Sidney Herbert’s stanza to the prose equivalent that very likely served her as model text4, it can be noticed that generally, SVX order5 must already have been established at the time, with the verbs in imperative clauses preceding objects and obligatory adverbials:

A Psalme of praise.

1 Sing ye loude vnto the Lord, all the earth.

2 Serue the Lord with gladnes: come before him with ioyfulnes.

(Geneva Bible (1560), emphasis added)

As will be shown, the dislocation of clause constituents out of their syntactically expected positions is a phenomenon which can be found in English congregational song to a considerable extent. But is it a typical, if not constitutive feature of this genre?

In order to answer this question, it is necessary not only to analyse the phenomenon linguistically, but also to take a look at the history of the genre, since non-linguistic developments might have an impact on the degree of deviating constituent order.

English congregational song is an essential part of religious life in England.6 Many of these songs have a long-lasting tradition and are popular and well-known among churchgoers beyond denominational lines. The genre consists of several subtypes of congregational song, most importantly metrical psalms and hymns. While metrical psalms form the musical basis of Protestant congregational worship in England especially in the 16th and 17th centuries, hymnody gains more and more acceptance from the 18th century on, having started, however, in denominations dissenting from the Protestant faith. Only in the 19th century, English hymns become prevalent also in the Anglican Church. ← 3 | 4 →

The main formal difference between metrical psalms and hymns is that psalm versifications are of course based on Bible passages, whereas hymns are freely authored, in most cases without any model texts. As will be shown in this study, the transition from the one major subtype of congregational song to the other is clearly reflected in the data, above all in decreasing proportions of dislocated constituents.

1.1 Aims of this study


XIV, 258
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (July)
Syntax Psalm Hymne Versmaß
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. XIV, 258 pp., 28 graphs

Biographical notes

Kirsten Gather (Author)

Kirsten Gather graduated in Musicology, English philology, and Theatre, Film, and Television studies at the University of Cologne. She works as a researcher at the English department of the University of Cologne. Her research interests include historical linguistics, corpus linguistics and hymnology.


Title: Syntactic Dislocation in English Congregational Song between 1500 and 1900