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Grammar in Songs

Steve Parkes 09 Feb 01 - 03:28 AM
Amos 09 Feb 01 - 01:10 AM
En 09 Feb 01 - 12:16 AM
cowboypoet 08 Feb 01 - 09:32 PM
Snuffy 08 Feb 01 - 05:59 PM
cowboypoet 08 Feb 01 - 03:30 PM
McGrath of Harlow 08 Feb 01 - 02:08 PM
Jim Dixon 08 Feb 01 - 12:31 PM
cowboypoet 08 Feb 01 - 12:07 PM
KitKat 08 Feb 01 - 08:46 AM
Grab 08 Feb 01 - 07:19 AM
cowboypoet 07 Feb 01 - 09:03 PM
McGrath of Harlow 07 Feb 01 - 07:48 PM
En 07 Feb 01 - 06:56 PM
Uncle_DaveO 07 Feb 01 - 11:39 AM
Steve Parkes 07 Feb 01 - 10:18 AM
Grab 07 Feb 01 - 08:27 AM
GUEST,Roger the skiffler 07 Feb 01 - 06:06 AM
Steve Parkes 07 Feb 01 - 03:52 AM
En 07 Feb 01 - 02:26 AM
cowboypoet 06 Feb 01 - 10:15 PM
En 06 Feb 01 - 09:09 PM
cowboypoet 06 Feb 01 - 12:33 AM
GUEST,Ulyyf 05 Feb 01 - 07:15 PM
GUEST 05 Feb 01 - 07:12 PM
Steve Parkes 05 Feb 01 - 03:46 AM
Lonesome Gillette 04 Feb 01 - 10:53 PM
cowboypoet 04 Feb 01 - 12:25 AM
McGrath of Harlow 03 Feb 01 - 02:13 PM
JVZ 03 Feb 01 - 01:11 PM
En 03 Feb 01 - 12:15 AM
Ebbie 02 Feb 01 - 08:06 PM
Steve Parkes 02 Feb 01 - 03:35 AM
Pauline L 02 Feb 01 - 02:34 AM
GUEST,Joe 01 Feb 01 - 11:10 PM
En 01 Feb 01 - 10:12 PM
GUEST 01 Feb 01 - 09:42 PM
Murray MacLeod 15 Jan 01 - 12:48 PM
Bill D 15 Jan 01 - 11:42 AM
Steve Parkes 15 Jan 01 - 03:46 AM
Amos 13 Jan 01 - 07:31 PM
Pelrad 13 Jan 01 - 06:50 PM
Haruo 13 Jan 01 - 01:18 AM
McGrath of Harlow 05 Jan 01 - 04:28 PM
Grab 05 Jan 01 - 09:16 AM
GUEST,Roger the skiffler 05 Jan 01 - 03:44 AM
Steve Parkes 05 Jan 01 - 03:30 AM
Haruo 04 Jan 01 - 09:01 PM
GUEST,Musik_Meister 04 Jan 01 - 09:00 PM
Uncle_DaveO 04 Jan 01 - 08:37 PM
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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 09 Feb 01 - 03:28 AM

Oh damn! I suppose somebody had to spoil everything and introduce common senes!

Steve

Anyway, it's time we moved to a new thread!


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Amos
Date: 09 Feb 01 - 01:10 AM

begin rant//

This conversation is half ridiculous. Trying live folk music before the sere and pedant bar of rigid Latinate constructionist grammar is about as much fun as trying to White-Out the balls in the monkey cage, you ask me! A song is someone's VOICe for Krissake! You don't dick around with it -- you absorb it and regenerate it in an effort to forward the voice and intent. it has NOTHING to do with grammar whatsoever. You might change the grammar a little if it enhances the relay. The perfomer is demonstrating the WILL of a living spirit.

The notion of trying such an act under the frigid finicky light of grammar is preposterous. I can hear Leadbelly now:

"...On Tuesday, I was thrown into jail. On Wednesday my trial was duly transcribed and judged, and on Thursday nobody would agree to put up bail money on my behalf. Oh, surely I am almost done; but I am not going to agree to remunerate any persons of partially African and partially white descent, regardless of the validity of their claims for services rendered."

And another thing: folk music is one of the few arena left in which one can excel by being wholly oneself, without pretense, without Procrustean modifications to one's own heart, and without the frozen excrescences which pass for personalities in business and society. Grammar of the Latinate sort, on the other hand, is an imposed class of arbitraries. It is mandatory in public writing of an expository sort. But it is an absurd paradox when it crawls up to the palisades of living folk music.

end rant//

Regards,

A


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: En
Date: 09 Feb 01 - 12:16 AM

"If one is fond of folk music, he should try the Mudcat."

It seems no other Americans learned to say, "If one is fond of folk music, one should try the Mudcat." One might feel it is more consistent to use pronouns that agree.

This string is extraordinary. Isn't it amazing how the word "grammar" attracted so many people who are passionate about language? You are all quite amazing and wonderful. I'm glad to have found Mudcat again.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: cowboypoet
Date: 08 Feb 01 - 09:32 PM

I can see it now:

"How's Bob?" "They's fine."


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Snuffy
Date: 08 Feb 01 - 05:59 PM

"Because "you" can be either singular or plural."

It can nowadays, but it used to be plural only, then it also became the polite/formal address for singular (like French "vous"), and later still the standard form for singular. Maybe "they" is going the same way.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: cowboypoet
Date: 08 Feb 01 - 03:30 PM

"If it's all right to use you to refer to one person, why is it wrong to use they to refer to one person?"

Because "you" can be either singular or plural.

"Incidentally 'barbarian' comes from the Greek, who used it to refer to anyone who didn't speak Greek. "

You're absolutely correct -- my abject apologies. Sometimes my brain cramps when I try to be erudite. It's the risk one runs when he's basically simple-minded.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 08 Feb 01 - 02:08 PM

If it's all right to use you to refer to one person, why is it wrong to use they to refer to one person?

Language changes. "You", meaning one person, changed a long time ago. "They" meaning "he or she" hasn't been quite so widely used for so long. But it's hardly a new construction, as Steve Parkes pointed out - it's been around at least 150 years.

There is one construction that sets me teeth on edge a bit - because it strikes me as ugly not because I think it "wrong".

This is the one you find in sentences which use both one and he (or she) "If one is fond of folk music, he should try the Mudcat." But I accept that in American English this appears to be both current and accepted as grammatical. (However, language changes, and I rather hope that the move towards more sensitivity on gender issues will in time stop it being an acceptable construction.)

Incidentally "barbarian" comes from the Greek, who used it to refer to anyone who didn't speak Greek. (Well, the books tell you that they didn't use it to refer to the Romans - but I bet they did on the sly.)


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 08 Feb 01 - 12:31 PM

McGrath and cowboypoet: Here's how I would say it:

"Whoever wants to learn about folk music would be well advised to try the Mudcat."

It's grammatical and it avoids both wordiness and sexism.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: cowboypoet
Date: 08 Feb 01 - 12:07 PM

KitKat, I suspect it's because in the colonies we so often pronounce "was" as if it were spelled "wuz". I realize this is a rank generalization (not that I care), but people in the UK always seem to pronounce "was" so mellifluously that perhaps it just sounds better. Or maybe you're just all ignorant (o,-).

Some are born pedantic, some achieve pedantry, and some have pedantry thrust upon them.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: KitKat
Date: 08 Feb 01 - 08:46 AM

I'm a professional writer, so I admit to pedantry.

The thing that really drives me barmy is the incorrect use of apostrophes, especially in simple plurals, or as in the incorrect use of 'it's', instead of the correct possessive 'its'.

I have also noticed that our US friends are also much better at using the subjunctive in conversation, as in 'if it were to be required ..' In wonder why that is?


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Grab
Date: 08 Feb 01 - 07:19 AM

Cowboypoet, I thought the Latin for "barbarian" was "homo indomitabilis" (sp?). Literally, "unsubmissive man", which says a lot about how the Romans viewed the rest of the world! Both may be the case, though.

Incidentally, there's a "Barbary coast", where the ppl were (in the Middle Ages) famed for being ferocious pirates - is this any link to the word "barbarian"? IIRC this is somewhere in Spain.

Grab.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: cowboypoet
Date: 07 Feb 01 - 09:03 PM

"I'm sure that if I'd been a Roman I'd have got very irritated at the way these barbarians were speaking a bastardised version of my wonderful language. "

They most certainly did. The word "barbarian" Comes from the fact that to the Romans, accustomed to that most elegant language Latin, the language of the northern Europeans sounded like "Bar bar bar bar" -- in other words gibberish (and isn't that a wonderfully expressive other word?).

"'If anyone wants to learn about folk music, they would be well advised to try the Mudcat.'

"'If anyone wants to learn about folk music, he or she would be well advised to try the Mudcat.'

"Two ways of saying the same thing. I think the first form is actually better English."

Given that "anyone" is singular and "they" is plural I disagree. Simpler certainly, in more than one sense of the word (o,-), but not better, surely? However, I defend to the death your right to speak English however you choose, mon ami, as long as you can forgive the occasional wince on my part.

Dang! Some folks air sure pa'tic'lar about their speechifyin', ain't they?


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 07 Feb 01 - 07:48 PM

Well you couldn't very well be caught dead saying anything, could you? Which is just an example of the fact that we use language in a way which is not strictly tied down to hard logic.

Language changes. Some of the changes are sad, because we lose things on the way. I'm sure that if I'd been a Roman I'd have got very irritated at the way these barbarians were speaking a bastardised version of my wonderful language.

They'd go around ignoring all the rules, abandoning all the carefully articulated constructions that made for an elegant and precise language, which could get an incredible amount of information into a very small compass. Instead of poetry all you'd get would be these clumsy grunts and hisses.

Eheu fugaces!

But in time things settled down, and linguists found that these strange barbarian languages that had evolved did in fact have rules, even though they weren't the same as the rules of Latin.

Language always has rules. They may not be the same as the ones you're used to, and they may seem to be constantly changing, and you don't understand them, and it looks as if there aren't any rules, but the rules are there all right. If there weren't rules it couldn't be used as a means of communication.

I think it makes sense to try and resist changes that rob the language of subtlety and beauty, but not because they are "wrong", because they are clumsy and ugly. And just because there's a fad for some innovation it doesn't mean it'll stick around. But there's no good thinking that there is a permanently correct language that isn't going to alter out of all recognition over time.

As for the gender stuff - using "they" for "he or she" in the right context is a perfectly sensible thing to do, and it has been done for at least the last century and a half. Even if it, using the plural form instead of the singular is not essentially different from what we all do when we say "you" instead of "thou".

"If anyone wants to learn about folk music, they would be well advised to try the Mudcat."

"If anyone wants to learn about folk music, he or she would be well advised to try the Mudcat."

Two ways of saying the same thing. I think the first form is actually better English.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: En
Date: 07 Feb 01 - 06:56 PM

I wouldn't be caught DEAD saying "me and Jim", unless it occured in a folk song, perhaps. I teach English, for crying out loud. Even if the phrase were the object of the verb it would be "Jim and me".

Oh, and thank you all for the punctuation help. We are willows, we bend with the wind.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 07 Feb 01 - 11:39 AM

Grab said:

"Speaking naturally, no-one hesitates to say 'me and Jim'".

Au contraire, mon frere! I wouldn't be caught dead saying that, if it is the subject of the sentence. If it's the object of a transitive verb, okay, but I don't think that's what you were talking about.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 07 Feb 01 - 10:18 AM

Roger - there's nothing wrong with my spelling, it's just my typing that I have a problem with!

On a note of general interest, we have a few places around my way such as Wednesbury, Wednsefield, Hednesford (with an H: Henna's ford). The local pronunciation is "Wedge-bury", "Wedge-field", "Hedge-fud"; the rest of us get by pronouncing them the same way we say "Wednesday" ("Wenz-dee"!)

Steve


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Grab
Date: 07 Feb 01 - 08:27 AM

En, just a quickie - the only day name which has survived in about its original pronunciation would be "Sunday". "Wednesday" should really be "Wotan's Day". Should we revert, since our current pronunciation is obviously wrong? ;-)

The "he/him" thing I'll agree on. English does have an acceptable form - "one" - but that seems to have fallen out of favour at about the same time as the feminists had their fit about "he" applying to a person generally. Work that one out!

But it's all quite a strange argument anyway, since everyone knows that the spoken and written forms of English are different. A formal document, for example, shouldn't have abbreviations such as "isn't" or "I'm". Speaking naturally, no-one hesitates to say "me and Jim". And Bill Bryson describes a Southern woman telling him "you makes the square", meaning "you drive around the square" - you'll not find that usage in the dictionary!

Grab.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: GUEST,Roger the skiffler
Date: 07 Feb 01 - 06:06 AM

Just to get this thread to 100.
Not that I'm in any position to criticise any one else's proof reading, but as it's Steve I'll make an exception: "punctuation", I think that should be, Steve!
:o)
RtS( OK,nobody likes a smartarse, but I'm too old to change now!)


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 07 Feb 01 - 03:52 AM

using "they" when one means "he" -- if it was good enough for Lewis Carol, then it's good enough for me, mate!

Steve (who also puts his punctuaion outside his speech marks!)


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: En
Date: 07 Feb 01 - 02:26 AM

I enjoy your arguments, cowboy. I believe one should speak as one chooses, too. Using "he" when one means to say "one" is not nearly as troublesome as using "they" when one means "he," would you agree?

Please tell me I made you laugh; my son, reading over my shoulder told me to lose the hyphen (that would be the one in anal-retentive).

"I'm not sure that the point is to be understood fully." Of course you are right. Perhaps the point is really to express oneself. Oh pleeeeease don't get me started on the question, "What is art?"

BTW, OED is my favorite book so I'll be contacting you regarding my funeral arrangements in case you know someone who can do that with a dictionary.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: cowboypoet
Date: 06 Feb 01 - 10:15 PM

"As artists we convey much more than perfect grammar can convey, using all the color, variety, flexibility, humor and inventiveness available to us in English. We to agree on the general rules, but the point is to be understood fully, not to be right."

I agree, and I'm pretty sure that's precisely what I've been saying. The fact that you put it into other words is one of the beauties of the language that's being lost -- as English becomes more "simple" the thesaurus shrinks. I'll go you one better. I'm not sure that the point is to be understood fully, and I'm guessing Bob Dylan and Ezra Pound weren't either. Sometimes you can get the point across without saying anything like what you mean. I'll bet you, however, that if Dylan or Pound wanted to construct a perfect sentence conveying a specific thought they'd know how to do it. (Remember, we're not talking here about people like Robert Johnson, who created powerful lyrics without knowing the rules. I sometimes wonder if folks like that aren't greater geniuses than Dylan and Pound, but that's probably a topic for another discussion.)

I too dislike revisionist grammar, though I fear I must disagree with you about the new sensitivity. I'd be happy to see racial and sexist pejoratives disappear completely, but I can't bring myself to use bad grammar because somebody thinks it politically correct. I don't disrespect women when I say "One should speak as he chooses" -- I'm merely following the rules I was taught (mostly by women, I might add).

BTW, I don't care very much about whether other people know I'm "right" (I prefer "correct") as long as *I* know. And I don't correct other people's grammar, unless they ask for it. I merely deplore the fact that those who know better often don't do better, not out of any artistic urge or aim but because they're lazy. Of course there's not much I can do about it beyond my own limited sphere, but I can be disappointed that it's raining without thinking I can make the sun shine.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: En
Date: 06 Feb 01 - 09:09 PM

Sometimes rules are broken because for the sake of convenience or or brevity, or to eliminate awkwardness, not out of laziness. This is how contractions came about, and they are almost acceptable in formal written language now, and certainly in lyrics. Someone probably had a real hissy-fit about "won't."

I, too admire precise language. My main objection when grammar is massacred in song or speech is that the message is unclear or even ludicrous. Mispronunciation galls me more. When I discovered that Walter Cronkite said "Feb-uary" instead of "February" I about cried because I always had taken pride in pronouncing my birth-month properly. My dictionary now lists his pronunciation as acceptable. I have decided to let go and let it be. After all, the flagbearer for Wednesday lost out to the one for Wenzday, didn't she? I shall survive.

Here's a convention that is dying a deserved, though lingering, death: the use of the pronouns "he" or "him" to signify any person in general. As a liturgical musician I am happy to see new lyrics artfully constructed with the new sensitivity, but I have difficulty with the published material we use in which "inclusive language" is intruding into very old music. I will NOT lead the people in singing "Good Christians All Rejoice." We white-wash our history that way--sort of Animal Farmish, don't you think? I know, what a paradox.

As artists we convey much more than perfect grammar can convey, using all the color, variety, flexibility, humor and inventiveness available to us in English. We to agree on the general rules, but the point is to be understood fully, not to be right.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: cowboypoet
Date: 06 Feb 01 - 12:33 AM

Admittedly, dear friends, language must evolve. There is, for example, no word in Middle English for "microprocessor." And French and Spanish are indeed not "decayed Latin" and I didn't mean to suggest for a moment that they are. But French and Spanish, like English, German, and all the dialects of Chinese, have each a set of grammatical rules, and everything else is slang. Slang can be very useful (boy howdy!) but as the Dalai Lama or Bill Clinton or someone once said, "You must first understand the rules so you will know when to break them." And I humbly submit that grammatical rules should be broken for a reason (preferably artistic) and not out of laziness.

By "so-called evolution" I refer to phrases such as, "One must understand the rules before they can break them." Is that evolution or crap? I know where I'd put my money.

Ignorance is not knowing, my honorable if confused fellow Mudcatter; it isn't having an opinion different from yours. By the way, in Proto-indoeuropean did they use apostrophes? A lot of us do nowadays. They tell other people we're aware we've left something out for purposes of brevity.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: GUEST,Ulyyf
Date: 05 Feb 01 - 07:15 PM

I agree. French and Spanish aren't "decayed" Latin, and whatever language English becomes won't be a "decayed" version of our language. Language changes. Get over it.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: GUEST
Date: 05 Feb 01 - 07:12 PM

"the so called evolution of language is in fact decay"??? Thats so ignorant! If language didnt change to fit changing needs-the need for new words, or new grammatical constructions, etc.- then we'd all be speaking Proto-indoeuropean.Now, if thats what you want, then thats your choice. I, on the other hand, believe that dropping useless forms of words, simplifying verbs, and living your language is a good thing.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 05 Feb 01 - 03:46 AM

But think how boring it would be if no-one ever changed the tune or the words!

Steve


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Lonesome Gillette
Date: 04 Feb 01 - 10:53 PM

"cleaning up" someone elses song grammar is like changing someone's melody because you don't think they did it right. But they did it exactly the way they wanted, or at least the best they could, why change it? It's like when violinists try to play the fiddle and they "fix" all the things that don't fit their view of what's musically correct. If all songs had the same grammar that would be pretty damn borin'


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: cowboypoet
Date: 04 Feb 01 - 12:25 AM

Well now, I admit I've used I've used incorrect grammar in some of my poems, usually because the speaker was a person who might not be expected to have been initiated into the mysteries of the irregular verb. "Knowed" comes to mind, because it rhymes with "slowed". It was poetic license. I can't do anything like that right now because I was recently stopped while reciting too fast and my poetic license was suspended. (Ba-DUM-ching!)

Having confessed, however, I wish to take issue (in the politest possible way, of course) with all who have said that the language is evolving and what was not permissible before may now be permitted because it's the way we all talk to each other. The so-called "evolution" of the language is in fact decay. Many young people today are unaware of the fact that they don't know how to speak proper English. A high-school senior of my acquaintance told me the other day, "Me and Becky seen you at the book store, but you was too far away to get your attention." She is a dear child and means well, but forsooth! She's been through twelve years of school and they "seen" me? Words failed me then and they fail me now. People who know how to speak properly may take liberties (Mark Twain is a prime example). People who never learned how have nothing to apologize for. People who have the tools and refuse to use them should be boiled with their own syntax and buried with an OED through their hearts.

There are of course exceptions. Anyone who thinks good English and slang can't co-exist peacefully (and for a purpose) should read P. G. Wodehouse. And I think great oratory could be excused an occasional lapse -- Winston Churchill was once taken to task for splitting an infinity in a speech and replied, "That is the sort of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put." The point is, he knew the difference and made an informed decision about how best to convey his meaning.

And while I'm ranting, may we reintroduce the phrase "You're welcome" into common usage? I get so tired of saying "Thank you" to someone for some service they have rendered, a server in a restaurant, for example, and being told "No problem." I may not care if what I asked for was problem -- in fact I may have thought it might be some trouble so I took pains to express my appreciation.

Please let us not allow the language of Lord Acton and Edward Everett to degenerate into grunting noises.

There. That's as many words as I've spoke since I've knowed you.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 03 Feb 01 - 02:13 PM

"Now, use of a double negative is--dare I say it--a no-no."

But the question is, is "a no-no" a double negative?

For me the bottom line about this is often going to be, what sounds best, what comes off the tongue easiest and doesn't leave you uttering tongue twisting consonant blends that get in the way, and so forth.

As JVZ points out "Joshua fit the battle" sounds better than "Joshua fought the battle".


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: JVZ
Date: 03 Feb 01 - 01:11 PM

Folk songs change. That's what makes them folksong.

However, There is one area in which I personally draw the line. Some of the most "ignorant writers" mentioned above were the American black slaves. They are also responsible, directly or through influance, for must of the great music we have today.

I know, and pretty much everybody (to whom I sing)knows that the past tense of fight is fought not fit. Whether it be for grammer or for political correctness, most people sing "Joshua fought the battle of Jerico". However, it doesn't trip over tongue like "Joshua fit the battle of Jerico".

So, I don't care about grammer. I don't care about political correctness. I don't care who I may offend. The men and women, iliterate slaves though they be, who created these wonderful songs are so far above me on the musical ladder of creativity that to change their lyrics just to correct grammer would be impudent on my part.

This is the way I feel and I wouldn't think of putting it off on anyone else.

John VZ


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: En
Date: 03 Feb 01 - 12:15 AM

Pauline,

Even though language here in the San Francisco Bay Area is pretty casual, I still teach my students not to end sentences with a preposition, so they would write "the person for whom you were looking," with which I am more comfortable (oooh--twice in one sentence).

"If today WERE not an endless highway" is correct, using a subjunctive verb form. But that form is disappearing, so it is not uncommon to hear "If today was not..." instead. This is like fingernails on the blackboard to me. Most people, you might notice, still use the expression "if I were you" not "if I was you." Except the teacher in the room next to mine.

"...he loves it just as I" would have a different meaning than "...he loves it just like me." The former means "he loves" something the same way "I [do]," verb understood in the second clause; and the latter means "he loves" something as much as he loves "me."

But don't you pay me no never-mind. We all seem to understand each other anyhow.

And JOE!

Thanks for fixing me up there. Neglecting my 'neither' was a mighty bad slip-up! I won't never do that again.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Ebbie
Date: 02 Feb 01 - 08:06 PM

In Hazel Dickens' song, My Better Years, she sings, 'I've already gave you my better years.' It would be easy to recast it grammatically but as a regional, dialectical phrase it's perfect.

Eb


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 02 Feb 01 - 03:35 AM

Talking of double negatives, I heard this cautionary tale (possibly on the 'Cat!):

A professor of Languages was giving a lecture on grammar, and got on to the subject of negation. "In some languages, such as English, a double negative is generally interpreted as an affirmative. For example, 'We don't have no bananas' is identical to 'We have bananas'. In some languages -- and some English-speaking sub-cultures, of course! -- a double negative is interpreted as a negative: 'We ain't got no bananas', for instance, clearly means 'We have no bananas'."
[A few muffled laughs]
Encouraged by the possibility of a little professorial humour, he added, "However, as far as I am aware there is no language in which a double affirmative can be interpreted as a negative!".
From the back of the lecture theatre: "Yeah, yeah!"
[Collapse of academic party]

Steve


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Pauline L
Date: 02 Feb 01 - 02:34 AM

As a part time English teacher, I have the same problem, even when I'm writing prose. For example, "the person whom you were looking for" doesn't sound quite right, but it is grammatically correct. The song to which I most like to change the words is as follows:

If today WERE not an endless highway, If tonight WERE not an crooked trail, If tomorrow WEREN'T such a long time, Then loneliness would mean nothing to me at all.

However, the following, from the last verse of Paxton's "Marvelous Toy"

" and he loves it just as I"

just doesn't sound right, and I wouldn't write, say, or sing it that way.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: GUEST,Joe
Date: 01 Feb 01 - 11:10 PM

No, that's "I hope pretty soon it don't bother you no more neither."

Joe


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: En
Date: 01 Feb 01 - 10:12 PM

I am a teacher. Grammar is my business! I used to change words to fit my sense of order. However, I am aware more of the organic, ever-changing nature of language, especially English. Our syntax, pronunciation and grammar are always in a state of flux and development; new words are being added all the time. In Shakespeare's time, for instance, double negatives were conventional, as it still lis in many other languages. Now, use of a double negative is--dare I say it--a no-no.

As a young person studying the classics and classical music, I was very stuffy and unyielding. Now I appreciate the diversity and richness of dialect and it doesn't bother me anymore. Still, when I teach my students songs that contain usage errors I point them out; I ask them for corrections, then we sing it the way it is written, with as much authenticity as we can muster. We celebrate our living language.

I hope pretty soon it don't bother you no more, either.

En


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: GUEST
Date: 01 Feb 01 - 09:42 PM

You all seem to forget that the idea of a single "correct" grammer was invented in the 1600s.Before that, people spoke the way their parents did, because it sounded right. And everyone used double negatives.Really, in terms of grammer, if it makes sense, it's correct. "Dog store to walked I not" is incorrect. It makes no sense. "I didn't walk the dog to the store" is as correct as "I never walked no dog to no store"


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Murray MacLeod
Date: 15 Jan 01 - 12:48 PM

Amos, there is no disagreement here. "Loath" and "loth" are both interchangeable variations, you can be "loth" to correct me or you can be "loath" to correct me but you cannot be "loathe" to correct me. You are of course at perfect liberty to "loathe" me while you are correcting me

Murray


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Bill D
Date: 15 Jan 01 - 11:42 AM

"The wind was rough
And cold and blough
She kept her hands
Inside her mough"

(yes, I know this is a smart-alec play on spelling, not grammar...but threads WILL creep)


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 15 Jan 01 - 03:46 AM

It's not that uncommon for a trad song to change person, e.g. "A blacksmith courted me ... her lips grew pale and wan ...". It's a nice litereary device for a number of reasons, not least is that it enables me (a man) to sing a woman's song. But(oops -- grammar!) it also allows the singer to slip into the present tense and increase the drama -- "it's happening to me, and it's happening now". When you get to the end, you "reveal" that it's a story after all, and you leave your heroin trembling with fury but you don't say what happened next -- just like a modern short story.

Steve

P.S. But there's no excuse for swapping between "You" and "Thou"!


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Amos
Date: 13 Jan 01 - 07:31 PM

Beg to differ but to be "loath" is a n accepted construction over theis-a-way. As in, I am loath to correct you but...

American Heritage sez:

loath also loth (lth, lZ) adj. 1. Unwilling or reluctant; disinclined: I am loath to go on such short notice. [ Middle English loth displeasing, loath from Old English lEth hateful, loathsome]


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Pelrad
Date: 13 Jan 01 - 06:50 PM

"Pelrad, since we are all in nit picking mode here, may I point out that you are not "loathe" to change the wording, you are "loth" to change the wording."

Thanks, Murray! That's actually a word I have only heard, never seen written. And I never knew the correct pronunciation of "slough" either, having only read it. We don't have many sloughs here in RI, or they're in disguise.

Although the changing perspective (from "I" to "he" or "she") drives me batty, I don't change it. I like the character of traditional lyrics.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Haruo
Date: 13 Jan 01 - 01:18 AM

This is not a folk song I'm complaining about, now, but a recent Christian praise song (pace Susan). My complaint is not that it is grammatically wrong but that it switches grammars in midstanza (I've marked the breaks with a | ) for no good reason. I also dislike the fact that it bills itself as "Psalm 42:1" and that's what it means: just the one verse from the psalm, then a bunch of Neo-Christian mush.
  1. As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after Thee.
    | You alone are my heart's desire, and I long to worship | Thee.

    Chorus
    | You alone are my strength, my shield;
    To You alone may my spirit yield.
    You alone are my heart's desire, and I long to worship | Thee.

  2. | You're my friend and You are my brother even though You are a King.
    I love You more than any other, so much more than anything.

  3. | I want you more than gold or silver, only You can satisfy.
    You alone are the real joy-giver and the apple of my eye.

Blessings,
Liland


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 05 Jan 01 - 04:28 PM

As I read some of the posts here, I got a vision of Data in Star Trek singing "corrected" songs.

The truth is, we are much more flexible in the way we talk than in the way we are taught. We tend to be more "correct" in written language, though when it's a question of posts were or emails we are sometimes much closer to spoken language.

And that isn't a matter of one way being right, and the others wrong. We go though our lives communicating in a number of related but significantly different dialects, whether we are aware of this or not. There's a spoken dialect, and a written dialect, to start with - but on top of that there is formal speech and family speech and public and private and...

It is quite right that our songs should generally reflect the way we use language in speech rather than in writing, or in an academic context.

Changing a song because you want it to fit the way you speak can be the right thing to do. Changing it because you want to "correct" it - that isn't the same thing at all. (The actual change might be the same in both cases - but the reason for it is not, and that makes all the difference.)


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Grab
Date: 05 Jan 01 - 09:16 AM

"Two countries separated by a common language" again...

Grab.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: GUEST,Roger the skiffler
Date: 05 Jan 01 - 03:44 AM

My favourite (non-folk) one is in Elvis' "One Night": "I ain't never did no wrong".
It might make the Professor Randolph Quirks of this world have a conniption fit but it seems apt enough in context.
...and as for the blues...no, I don't think correcting their grammar would improve them, do you?
RtS


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 05 Jan 01 - 03:30 AM

I think your US/Canadian slough (pr. sloo) must be related to our UK sluice (pr. slooss). Anybody like to check with TOWFI or Michael Quinion?

Steve


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Haruo
Date: 04 Jan 01 - 09:01 PM

Esperanto doesn't permit prepositions to follow their objects, nor is a split infinitive possible to my imaginative ability (I have never heard anybody do it, and can't even think how I would pronounce it if I tried.) The closest thing to it might be using the infinitive where the context demands a finite verb; I think some of the minor characters in Baghy's Siberian novels do this; as I recall the characters in question were Chinese, and the usage is intended to represent their command of Russian, not Esperanto. Zamenhof's Esperanto version of Gogol's Grand Inquisitor is another good source of synthetic Esperanto dialect. In actual Esperanto discourse (written and, even more, spoken) misuse or mistaken failure to use the accusative -n is by far the most salient common error. And, oddly, one sees it even in the Esperanto of those (e.g. Russians) who have an accusative in their native tongue and would never dream of saying, e.g. "Ja kupila kniga"...

Liland


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: GUEST,Musik_Meister
Date: 04 Jan 01 - 09:00 PM

I have to say that grammar is for English classes, not songs. The thing people lose sight of is that grammar is, in fact, an artificial construct which was created after the fact. When the English language evolved, nobody was creating rules to be followed. Rather, what has happened is that much later, as in literally hundreds of years later, a small group of educated people decided to codify the language. Understand that I have no complaint with this, I have spent a lot of time reading very old documents which where pre-codification and it is very nice to have some rules that everyone follows. Still, these rules have far more to do with the printed language, not the spoken language. That is why we have dialects and regional pronunciations and colloquial expressions.

The point here is, songs are a part of the oral traditions much more than the written forms. Even today when they are written down and recorded on CDs and such, the main character of a song is that of oral tradition. If we try to limit this to a set of rules created in the sterility of the university chambers then we take away the most important values of the song. Personally, I sing songs with not only the grammar that it was written with, but I even sing them with the accents and vocal character of the artists who I associate with the song, who may or may not be the person who wrote it. By vocal character I don't mean I try to imitate the artist but rather my voice tends to take on those characteristics that identify the region the singer comes from, and even the social and economic class. To me, all of this is a part of the song as much as the music or words.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 04 Jan 01 - 08:37 PM

Grab said:
"Incidentally DaveO, I'm not sure how you get "knew" and "slough" to rhyme - what sort of accent are you talking?"

I'm talking American English. According to my unabridged, Random House Dictionary of the English Language, the entry is in part as follows:

SLOUGH (slou for 1, 2, and 4; sloo for 3) 1 ** 2 ** 3 (Also slew, slue.) U.S., Canadian. A marshy or reedy pond, inlet, backwater, or the like. 4 **

Always ready to raise educational and cultural levels around here! :-D

Dave Oesterreich


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