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Syntactic Dislocation in English Congregational Song between 1500 and 1900

A Corpus-based Study


Kirsten Gather

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.
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2 Syntactic Dislocation


In order to describe what is meant by syntactic dislocation, two preliminary steps are necessary. First, it is essential to introduce the syntactic terminology applied in this study. The nomenclature is based on Quirk et al. (1985), and since some terms are used differently by various linguists, the terminology needs clarification.

Secondly, it is important to look at the development of constituent order in English clauses before dealing with any kind of deviation from expected word order. A depiction of the most important developments from Old English to Modern English will show that at least from the Early Modern English period onwards, the order of clause constituents can be considered as relatively fixed, so that constituents that are moved out of their unmarked1 positions can indeed be called ‘dislocated’.

Against the background of the increasing predictability of unmarked word order, syntactic dislocation will then be defined. Furthermore, I will distinguish three subtypes of dislocation by the syntactic function of the moved constituent. The subtypes to be discussed are dislocated objects, complements, and obligatory adverbials. Subjects may also occur in dislocated positions, but this can usually be seen as a by-product of some other kind of dislocation, e.g. a fronted adverbial or complement. Therefore, dislocated subjects will only be discussed when they co-occur with one of the other subtypes.

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