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Friday, June 17, 2005

"send to" versus "send for"

In her latest comment under the preceding post, Voting on "send" without an object, Talmida cited: "Send for help! Send for the doctor! Maybe we should send for reinforcements?"

As a linguist, I consider Talmida's examples so interesting, as well as relevant to the discussion about grammaticality in English Bible translation, that I am copying my comment reply to her to this blog post, so it can be read more easily by others. Here is my reply:

Nice examples, Talmida. In my dialect they are all good. From a linguistic POV, they are different syntactically from the "send to" examples.

"send for" is a phrasal verb where the preposition is acting as a particle, rather than a preposition. The verb is composed of both "send" and "for" and is transitive. Each of these three sentences you cited has a direct object, "help," "the doctor," and "reinforcements," respectively.

I suspect, as some others have suggested, that "send to" is some kind of ellipsis for "send (someone, or a message) to," so that there is am implied semantic object which is not overt.

Are we having fun yet? I thoroughly enjoy these kinds of exercises.

IMO, we have accomplished several things so far:

1. noted that there are dialect difference with re: grammaticality intuitions about "send to"

2. the poll results and I think some comments, as well, indicate some sense that "send to" is an "older" form. For some people it seems to work better in the Bible than in extrabiblical writing.

3. The verb "send" behaves differently syntactically depending on whether or not there is a particle in combination with it to form a phrasal verb. (For info on phrasal verbs, google on "phrasal verbs." (N.B. In the discussions so far, only "send for" is a phrasal verb. "Send to" is not. "Send to" is composed of the verb "send" plus the preposition "to" which, to my mind, indicates purpose, the purpose for which the messenger or message was sent. A verb is part of a phrasal verb is the verb plus the following particle (which can, at first, look like a preposition, form a single verbal unit which acts like a single verb, that is, the two words together function as a single verb. Interestingly, in Cheyenne, the language I have worked with for many years, English phrasal verbs have single verb counterparts. I have added this N.B. thanks to the prodding from Talmida in her comment below.) I find phrasal verbs fascinating.


P.S. So, in terms of relevance to English Bible translation, some readers consider sentences with "send to" unnatural or even ungrammatical. I suspect that most, if not all, English speakers would consider sentences with "send for" both natural and grammatical. In my opinion, a translation team does better to use English wordings which will sound appropriate (grammatically and semantically acceptable) to the vast majority of those who use that translation. Doing so will make an English Bible version sound, well, English! :-)


At Sat Jun 18, 06:53:00 PM, Blogger Talmida said...

I agree with you about the phrasal verb form of send for. But the examples of send that we were discussing are not phrasals, and the OED indicates that it is an absolute use, meaning "to send a message or messenger" with after or to.

The same meaning CAN be followed by the infinitive or by and and a verb of purpose: "Send and see; send to find him".

This is great fun, and I love exploring words and meanings -- I particularly enjoy the research aspect.

I'm very curious as to your sources. When you say that something is ungrammatical, which grammar do you use as your standard?

And do you think formal English uses contractions? When students write essays in high school or college, are they in formal English? should they be? is this the kind of English you want to see in the Bible?

I'm sorry if you've already outlined this elsewhere in your blog -- feel free to point me in the right direction if I've missed it.


At Sat Jun 18, 10:19:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Talmida responded:
"I agree with you about the phrasal verb form of send for. But the examples of send that we were discussing are not phrasals, and the OED indicates that it is an absolute use, meaning "to send a message or messenger" with after or to."

I agree, Talmida, and I'm sorry my prose wasn't clear enough on that. Thanks to your comment here, I had just added a "N.B." to the blog post, which I hope is clear. It's quite a bit past my bedtime right now, so I can't guarantee anything about clarity :-)

Talmida also said:
"This is great fun, and I love exploring words and meanings -- I particularly enjoy the research aspect."

Well, good. I find it fun also. And I, too, enjoy the research. I'm not a great theoretician, but I enjoy tracking down interesting patterns among data.

Then Talmida asked:
"I'm very curious as to your sources. When you say that something is ungrammatical, which grammar do you use as your standard?"

The grammar of language usage. Much of it has been written down in books, such as an English grammar by Talmy Givon, and I think that Geoffrey Pullum may have authored or co-authored a decent descriptive grammar of English. But I discover much of English grammar through research, extensive field testing with others, as well as keeping my ears to the ground, doing lots of listening and observing how people write. Unfortunately, there are grammars of English which are prescriptive in nature, which can lead us astray. They tell us how the authors think we should speak, but that might not be how fluent speakers actually speak (or write). A grammar of a language needs to be empirical, based on facts of language use. It needs to be descriptive, describing how people actually speak or write.

Finally, from Talmida:
"And do you think formal English uses contractions? When students write essays in high school or college, are they in formal English? should they be? is this the kind of English you want to see in the Bible?"

I am increasingly seeing contractions in formal writing, such as technical writing on a scientific topic. Some of the old constrainst against use of contractions and similar rules are being recognized by many English experts as not very relevant anymore, as English language usage has been changing. This does not mean that there is total relativism. There still are differences between formal and informal writing. But not all the rules which used to be taught are followed by all good formal writers anymore.

As for the kind of English which should be in the Bible, that varies depending on who is being asked. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder as you know. It has become increasingly clear that there are very different opinions about what is the best kind of English to use in Bible versions.

For myself, the most important thing is that the translation be accurate. I would like to see reflection of differences among the various literary genre of the original biblical texts. I want only grammatical English to be in a Bible translation. I want there to be only proper English lexical collocations. I want there only to be English syntax, with no syntax imported from the biblical languages, making it more difficult to grasp the meaning of the biblical text. Other than these things which are important to me, I am flexible on the range of conformity that a translation has to the forms of the original biblical texts (as long as the results are in good quality, grammatical English). I personally prefer a version which is lively, at least for Bible passages which are themselves lively. I do not enjoy reading bland prose. And I definitely do not enjoy reading convoluted sentences. I do not think they are required to have an accurate translation.

As for using contractions or not in translation, I think that it is good to use contractions in direct speech, at least, so that it sounds like direct speech. We need to use contractions in translation for those parts of a translation that reflect the same kind of language situation that was going on in the original text. A more lofty passage, such as the awe-inspiring Isaiah should not have contractions. It needs to have a "high" tone reflecting the great, high God sitting on his throne. The prose needs to draw us into worship and not sound trivial.

Well, I must sleep, or I shall fall asleep in church, and then what will my fate be? :-)

At Sun Jun 19, 10:28:00 AM, Blogger Talmida said...

Well, we agree about accuracy! That's why I started studying Hebrew -- and what a revelation it has been! Even the best translations do not capture the poetry, the puns, the plays on words.

I disagree with you about English. I think there ought to be a standard level of formal (or written) language, and that requires rules and a prescriptive grammar. I think the alternative is a million different dialects, each with its own Bible.

At Sun Jun 19, 01:51:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Talmida, I, too, believe in standards for formal English. I'm sorry that wasn't clear in what you read. I have posted earlier in my blog on this point. I simply believe that our standards are derived from usage by those who speak a language, including the best speakers of a language. We do not impose a grammar upon a language, but, rather, discover what the grammar is from how people use the language. There are standard dialects of English. There is even enough agreement among the different standard dialects (British RP, American Midwest, standard Canadian, etc.) that a single, good quality literary form English Bible can be produced which will be understood by all speakers of standard dialects of English. There is no need to translation in to a million different dialects. We don't have the energy for that, and many people do not want to read the Bible in their own sub-dialect. We faced that when some people wanted to translate the Bible into Ebonics, but many speakers of Ebonics preferred to continue using a Bible written in a standard dialect of English, while continuting, themselves, to speak Ebonics within their own language group.

There are genuine language rules followed by those who speak every dialect. The rules of the "standard" dialects should be followed to produce good quality Bible versions. Because we would be following the rules used by good speakers and writers, it would not be a lowest common denominator kind of "low" speech. Rather, it is English which is respected and understood by all, including English professors.

It just doesn't need to follow the non-usage rules taught by "school grammarians" who tried to get people to follow artificial rules such as not splitting infintives (which was based on Latin, whose infintives could not be split because they, like Spanish, French, and other Romance languages, are single words, not separable), or not ending a sentence with a preposition. What is the logical, literary reason for not ending a sentence with a preposition. I don't know of any, other than that it's what prescriptive grammarians were taught and then they taught it to their students.

Language usage changes. It's a fact of life. We no longer use "thee" and "ye" in English, so we don't need to use these words in English translations of the Bible.

English had had a least three different kinds of negatives. One, "nye" (cognate with French ne), is totally gone, but can be found in old English literature.

The second form used the order of verb plus not, as in "Think not that I have come to destroy the law." That word order was already giving way to the contemporary order at the time the King James Version was being written in the early 1600's, but the KJV translators decided to retain that word order in most but not all passages. By 1750 A.D. the shift to the contemporary negative word order was complete, with only a few exceptions found in literature, especially when an author was trying to maintain a classical sound.

Today everyone uses the rule of do-support and the placement of the word "not" which you and I are accustomed to, as in:

"Do not think that I have come to destroy the law."

This wording follows current English usage. It turns out that the newest English version, the ESV, revised some of the old word order (retained in the RSV) to the newer word order, but left many examples of the older word order which is no longer used today.

So, what rule should be followed for good quality, formal literary English? I suggest that the rule for negatives to be followed should be the rule which was coming into increasing usage in the early 1600's and displaced the older usage by 1750. That is what is "grammatical" for speaker today, judging by how speakers today speak and write. I have never heard or read any fluent speaker today use the older negative word order.

Well, I'm basically trying to say that I think we are on the same wavelength, Talmida. I don't know what language rules to follow other than the ones that native, fluent speakers of English already follow, not when they are speaking slang or colloquialisms, but when they are speaking or writing in a way that everyone else would perceive to be good quality language.

At Sun Jun 19, 02:35:00 PM, Blogger Talmida said...

Thanks for the explanation. :)


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