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Interpretative Syntax

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 December 2020


I am well aware that the expression interpretative syntax has not the prestige of previous usage. Indeed no one at all familiar with the modern trend of syntactical studies could say that they serve in the slightest degree as aids in the interpretation of literature. It seems to be assumed that syntax has nothing to do with literary criticism or with stylistic effects. And as the study of English syntax is now conducted, one can hardly imagine two persons more alien in their aims and methods than the literary critic and the writer on syntax.

Research Article
Copyright © Modern Language Association of America, 1900

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Note 1 in page 97 Address of the President of the Central Division of the Modern Language Association of America, at its Annual Meeting held at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn., December, 1899.

Note 1 in page 99 The only verb of a principal clause in these five stanzas is the second word of the first line, is. Note how well the colon after each stanza indicates the uniformity of mood maintained.

Note 1 in page 101 Essai de Sémantique (1897), p. 330. Instead of “un signe de civilisation,” would not “un signe de organisation” be more accurate ? But M. Bréal's book is too good to be lightly emended.

Note 2 in page 101 I am inclined to think that the dropping of inflections is another indication of collectivism. Words do not have to be pronounced to a finish when speakers have learned to presume on a community of ideas and information.

Note 1 in page 102 See chapter on Grammar and Æsthetics. See also Bister's Prinzipien der Litteraturwissenschaft (1897), pp. 414-424.

Both authors discuss the aesthetic side of syntax. As used in this paper it will be seen that interpretative syntax includes æsthetic syntax, but more besides.

Note 2 in page 102 So, too, Old English Ic sceal (sculan), I shall, meant originally I have to, ought to, or must. It is interesting to find that Modern Greek has discarded the old future and evolved our will + infinitive. “The habit of forming the ordinary Future with had doubtless established itself in the vulgar speech long before it was admitted in the literary style; and can hardly have arisen before the vernacular had begun to diverge very decidedly from the classical type, i. e., not earlier than about 300 a. d., possibly much later. In low Latin such forms as cantare habeo for cantabo became common from the sixth century onwards.”—Vincent and Dickson's Handbook to Modern Greek (1893), p. 326.

Note 1 in page 103 “So-called” because the School as a school had no existence. “Wordsworth and Southey never had one principle in common,” says De Quincey. See his second paper on Coleridge in Literary Reminiscences.

Note 2 in page 103 See his Poetical Works, Preface to edition of 1815. The distinction made by Wordsworth is quoted almost in full by Fernald in English Synonyms and Antonyms, p. 210.

Note 1 in page 105 Grundriss der romanischen Philologie, vol. i, p. 211 (1888).

Note 1 in page 106 “The argument from style,” says Driver (Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament, p. 167, n. 2), “is cumulative: hence expressions which, if they stood alone, would have no appreciable weight, may help to support an inference, when they are combined with others pointing in the same direction.” The argument from style becomes cumulative in the true sense only when the concurrent expressions are both numerous and significant,—significant enough to be distinctive and characteristic. The stereotyped commonplaces of expression, however numerous the coincidences, cannot be relied upon as trustworthy evidence. See the admirable section on “Bestimmung des Autors” in Bernheim's Lehrbuch der historischen Methode.

Note 2 in page 106 Etudes syntaxiques sur la langue de Zola dans le Docteur Pascal, Inaugural-Dissertation zur Erlangung der Doktorwürde, von Eugène Gaufinez, Bonn, 1894.

Note 1 in page 109 Old English becuman, which has given us become, meant only to come, arrive, happen; never to become. The New English Dictionary gives c. 1175 a. d. as the earliest date for become followed by a complementary adjective or substantive.

Note 1 in page 110 Paul, Prinzipien, 3d ed., p. 28: “An der Muttersprache lässt sich daher das Wesen der Sprechthätigkeit leichter erfassen als an irgend einer anderen.” But Stoffel (Studies in English, Preface, p. vii) holds that “anomalous idioms .... stand a better chance of being made the subject of systematic study by foreigners than by natives.” True, but “anomalous idioms” constitute about as much of syntax as “Gorgons and Hydras and Chimæras dire” do of zoölogy.

Note 1 in page 111 The singular is also found in Old French and Modern French (see Tobler's Vermischte Beiträge, i, p. 196), and in Gothic and Modern German (see Paul's Prinzipien, 3d ed., p. 285). Neither Tobler nor Paul cites any illustrations from Modern English; nor has anyone sought help in sentences like “He is the best man that has been here,” in which, to my mind, the true solution lies.