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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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4 The History of Congregational Singing in England


Congregational song is a heterogeneous genre, which contains several subtypes. For the first two centuries under investigation, i.e. 1500 to 1699, the predominant subtype of congregational song is the metrical psalm. From roughly 1700, metrical psalmody is gradually replaced by the singing of hymns. As I will show in the analysis, this transition is clearly visible in the data, and the kinds of syntactic dislocation change when the dominance of versified Bible passages dwindles away in favour of newly authored hymns without any model texts. Therefore, it is essential to take a look at the history of congregational singing in England, and especially at the two major subtypes of the genre, that is, metrical psalms and hymns.

Of course, scholars from several disciplines have already dealt with this topic or at least part of it, although hymnology, i.e. the study of congregational singing, is a fairly young discipline. The first noteworthy works on this subject were published around 1900. Particularly John Julian’s Dictionary of Hymnology, first issued in 1891, is worth mentioning since it was and still is one of the best common reference works on congregational song and its authors.

While the early publications on hymnology usually dealt with the origin, authorship, or theological message of congregational songs, over the past decades hymnology has become the interest of scholars from an interdisciplinary perspective. John R. Watson (1999) approaches the genre from the perspective of literary studies, describing the development of congregational song as...

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