Yesterday during my bible study, I spotted the following sentence in discussion of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:
Whether this outlook is “gnostic” in the nontechnical sense that it merely placed an unusually high premium on “knowledge” (gnōsis) and “wisdom” (sophia) or in the more technical sense that it stemmed from a system of thought resembling second-century *gnosticism is a matter of ongoing debate.
(You can ignore the theology and church history; this post is about language.)
After posting about shall yesterday, I noticed it several times during the church service this morning. Looking at everything again on the train home, it became apparent that the earlier sources (two 19th century hymns and a congregational response based on a bible verse) used shall exclusively and the later sources (a 20th century translation (or two) of the bible – I’m not sure which one(s) we use) used will, regardless of I/we v you/she/he/it/they and simple v strong intention.
The hymns were:
And those who put their trust in thee / Nor death nor hell shall harm
I shall not fear the battle / If thou art by my side
O Jesus thou hast promised … That where thou art in glory / There shall thy servant be
The congregational response is:
Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.
This is based on Matthew 8:8, where a Roman centurion says:
Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof: but speak the word only and my servant shall be healed. (KJV)
Bible Hub has 25 versions; 16 use will and 9 (apparently the more traditionally based ones) use shall.
At church this morning (Easter Day), the first reading was from The Axe of the Apostles – sorry, The Acts of the Apostles. English allows final consonant clusters of two, three and four consonants, but almost everyone simplifies these in some way (natives speakers probably only the three- or four-consonant clusters; second language speakers/learners even two-syllable clusters. I have even noticed that some students tend to drop any consonant at the end of a word.). Acts = /ækts/. I suspect that most native English speakers reduce to this to /æks/ = axe most of the time, even in the very formal setting of a major historic parish church on Easter Day. (The reader was otherwise impeccably enounced.) Many second language speakers/learners, on the other hand, drop the s, especially if plural marking is optional or non-existent in their language and/or it does not allow many/any final consonant clusters and/or /s/ is not permitted at the end of those which are allowed.
In the course of my bible study, I came across the following verse (Judges 1.19 in the King James/Authorised Version):
And the LORD was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.
The famous anthem Sing Joyfully, by William Byrd (c1540-1623), sets four verses of Psalm 81, one of which starts ‘Blow the trumpet in the new moon’. The lesser-known setting by Adrian Batten (c1591-c1637), which we sang yesterday morning, uses a different translation, and that verse starts ‘Blow up the trumpet in the new moon’. That sounds excessive, even for a brass instrument.
I invented a new English diphthong in choir practice this morning. We were rehearsing Psalm 15, which lists some good behaviour which a good person does, and some bad behaviour which a good person doesn’t. The last verse is: ‘Whoso doeth these things shall never fall’. (For some reason, we were singing the translation of the Psalms by Miles Coverdale in 1538, as included in the Book of Common Prayer 1662.) At the rehearsal yesterday, someone sang fail, which makes sense in terms of both pronunciation and meaning. I made made a mental note to sing fall, but at the rehearsal this morning sang fail then changed mid-vowel to fall, thus singing /feɪɔl/ (is that actually a triphthong?). I was standing right in the centre of the choir, and the conductor was looking straight at me, so there was no place to hide. I wrote fall in very big letters on the page, and in the service sang it correctly. (I decided that if I sang fail in the service, I would stay on it – 31 other singers and an organist would have drowned me out.)
My first exposure to a non-standard variety of English was probably the Christmas song Mary’s Boy Child. One of my grandmothers had the sheet music and various members of the family sang it in various combinations when we visited at Christmas.
I vaguely remember vaguely thinking, ‘oh, this is different English’, not ‘oh, this is bad English’. Researching for this post, I found that Jester Hairston was born in a rural community in North Carolina, but grew up in Pittsburgh and later studied at Tufts University (Medford, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston) and the Juilliard School (Manhattan, New York). An obituary in the Los Angeles Times refers to his Boston accent, which he had to ‘lose’ for (stereotypically Black, at the time) radio and tv roles.