Frid's Second Blog Post: News Update plus a grammar lesson based on a sentence taken from Kennedy's Inaugural Address
Oops - I haven't posted in a while and I haven't been as regular by half about my figures-of- speech and academic-word-list-pronunciation-challenge items as I had intended. Well, time is flying by when you are very busy learning to build a business, writing your next book, running a household, and helping a few people. I have been meaning to post more often but real life happened instead. I'll try to make blog-posting and other social media activities part of real life in the future. Note to self: less housework, more writing and posting. (BTW, I am not dissing housework. Not at all. I believe in it. I have done my fair share of it and more for decades while doing scholarly work at the same time. But now it's time for me to learn to do less.)
Let me first catch you up on four important details.
Number one: My first book, The Joy of Syntax & the Zen of Grammar Practice, came out at the end of January. Ta-da! I held my author's copy in my hands on Jan. 31st, one day after my birthday. Yippee. Yay. Happy Dance. And the colors are beautiful. Happy Dance again. Thank you so much again to my friend Anja Feldhorst for creating the layout and to Balboa Press for publishing my book. The book launch party was a lot of fun. I am so grateful to the wonderful host, Buchhandlung Backhaus, and to all the lovely guests. THANK YOU. You can buy the book at Backhaus or you can order it from Balboa Press. Go to my shop here to find the link.
Number two: Against the recommendation of many business gurus and savants, I have decided to have two websites - and I am in the middle of quietly launching them. I'll be experimenting with this idea, but for now I have decided to have this Joy of Syntax site for university students, teachers, writers, and other hardcore language nerds (and I mean that in a very good way) and my English in Color site for non-nerds, like teacher trainees, high school students, and other normal people (and I also mean that in a very good way). I'll test-drive this idea for a while and see what happens.
Number three: I just published my first animal rights essay with KDP and CreateSpace. It's not only my first piece on animal rights but also my first real essay in German. (I am not counting little school papers that were forced out of me in high school before the age of 17.) You can order it via my shop HERE. My friend and B-School colleague Jen Barbato made the beautiful cover for me and my friend and web designer Manuel Seiss created the layout. I am so grateful. The essay is based on my first two animal rights talks that I gave in 2016, one at RWTH Aachen University and one at the University of Innsbruck.
Number four: I am about to launch what I hope will be a number of very cool in-person workshops and also my first series of webinars, so keep your eyes peeled for news (i.e., follow me on YouTube). One of the in-person workshops has a date, a time, and a venue already: It will happen at MuFab Aachen on June 10th from 10:00 - 2:00. All else will be revealed soon.
In the remainder of this post, I am going to totally nerd out over one single sentence from J.F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address and some grammar issues raised by it. Here it is:
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
(Unfortunately, the colors do not look beautiful on this website. But they are nice in the book. I'll also post the sentence on Insty. If you would like to get help with the color scheme, check out an early post on my Insty account (friderike.hirsch.wright) buy my book.
This Kennedy-sentence is a complex sentence, consisting of one main clause (that has the form of an imperative clause and that contains a humongous objective predicate (the red bit)) and one embedded adverbial sub clause of alternative conditions or possibilities (the underlined bit). Why does the sentence have such a huge objective predicate? And why does the main clause have the form of an imperative clause? The answers to both questions have to do with the verb "let."
The verb "let" developed out of the Old English verb lætan, which meant "to let, to permit." (All Germanic languages have a related word. The modern German cognate word is "lassen.") Today "let" is still often used as a main verb with the meaning "permit" and "allow." Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary provides this example sentence, for instance, in which "let" has these two meanings:
A break in the clouds let us see the summit.
The verb "let" is one of those transitive verbs that do not only require a direct object but also often need an objective predicate (which is a clause element that predicates something about the object). Here are a few example sentences, taken from George Curme's English Grammar (§67.C.1.b), containing other verbs with the same needs, as well as one of Curme's example sentences with "let":
Bid him come in.
I felt something touch my head.
I saw him do it.
I saw him working in the field.
You will never find him neglect his work.
He wouldn't let her wound be dressed.
Because the verb "let" has, as per force of its meaning, usually controlled another verb, it has over the centuries been found to come in handy as a sort of modal auxiliary verb and has been used for uttering commands in the first and third person and for expressing various types of the optative subjunctive in certain articulations of wishes, volition, desires, requests, warnings, and suggestions.
Since the imperative mood and the optative subjunctive mood can both be used to express volition, desires, requests, and demands, and since both moods can be expressed with "let" and the imperative sentence structure, it is sometimes hard to see, esp. for a beginner, whether an utterance is an imperative/command or not. (Remember that it's important to distinguish mood, sentence structure, and meaning. The word "imperative" can refer to any of the three ... That's a bit tricky. Might be worth writing about in another blog post.) Add to this that in commands the verb "let" can be both a sort of modal auxiliary and a main verb, as the case may be. In "Unlock this door and let me leave now, damn it" and "Let me out of here," "let" is used as a main verb. In all three clauses, both the verb forms and the sentence structures have the form of the imperative and express an imperative, i.e., a command. In "Let's leave immediately," "let" is used as a sort of modal to express an imperative in the first person plural. In "Let us part in friendship," on the other hand, the verb "let" is used as a modal auxiliary together with the imperative form of the sentence to express a sincere wish. Meaning and context tell us which is which; structure alone does not. Please note that even though "let" can be (and often is) used as a modal auxiliary, it always acts as a main verb, syntactically speaking. Hence it controls both an object and an objective predicate, even when it's a modal. (Note to self: must write a blog post about modals soon.)
Back to Kennedy's sentence. What is Kennedy doing? No, he is not expressing a command. One cannot order someone else "to know" something and one cannot order "every nation" to do anything. Kennedy is expressing his will, providing information, and simultaneous uttering a sort of warning. He could have said, "I want every nation to know that ...," or "I hereby inform every nation that ..." or "Every nation shall know that ..." But he obviously didn't want to openly present his wish and warning as his personal wish and warning (and in the option mentioned last, he would have used "shall" twice in a row, not good), so he chose the optative subjunctive (sometimes called a "hortative subjunctive") with "let" instead. (Obviously, the real addressee in this sentence is not "every nation" but the American people, but this issue transcends both the syntax of this particular sentence and the scope of this post.)
So now we are clear on the basic syntax of the main clause, right? Here it is again: Let every nation know something. And the "something" is a somewhat long and pompous that-clause containing a bunch of alliterations (discussed in my previous blog post) and also an instance of asyndeton (discussed in my grammar book on page 307).
The long objective predicate has been interrupted by an inserted adverbial sub clause of alternative conditions or possibilities (as previously stated). In some ways it's an easy little clause and in some ways it offers food for thought. The verb "wish" is often used as a transitive verb, but it can also be intransitive (but must be followed by a prep phrase as obligatory adverbial in that case). When "wish" is transitive, it can sometimes require an objective predicate. This is not really discussed in grammar books or dictionaries, as far as I have so far seen. Here are examples of sentences (taken from Webster's Learner's) featuring all syntactic options for "wish":
1. Subject - Verb - Adverbial
a) She wished upon a star.
b) She wished for a pony.
2. Subject - Verb - Object
a) I wish that you were here.
b) Ms Jones wishes to see you.
3. Subject - Verb - Object - Object
a) I wish you no harm.
b) I wish you both much happiness.
c) I wish him well.
4. Subject - Verb - Object - Objective Predicate
a) She wished him dead.
b) I can't wish your problems away.
Sentence 3 c) and sentence 4 a) might seem like the same type of sentence but they are not (and the color-parsing method makes that obvious). The word "well" in sentence 3c) is a noun functioning as direct object and it means "well-being" (The same kind of structure exists in German: Ich wünsche ihm alles Gute.) The word "dead" in sentence 4 a) is an adjective and functions as an objective predicate. (This also exists in German: Sie wünschte ihn tot.) The tricky bit is that "well" as a noun in the sense of "well-being" is not frequently used any longer, except in such idiomatic expressions as "to wish someone well" (The free online dictionaries that I always use don't list this meaning. Merriam-Webster's Unabridged, however, does. Yay.) and so "well" is often mistaken for an adjective when it's used in the expression mentioned above. Why is this important? Well, for one thing, this is nice to know, I think, and for another this circumstance explains why I made a parsing-booboo in my book. After consulting Merriam-Webster's Learner's and the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary and Merriam-Webster's Online, I concluded, while I was writing my book, that in Kennedy's sentence at hand "well and ill" were two adjectives functioning as an objective predicate (since adjectives cannot function as objects). However, when looking at the sentence again when I was holding my newly-published book in my hands, I suddenly recognized that "good and ill" must be nouns in a compound noun phrase acting as an object. My knowledge of German helped me see this. German and English happen to be the same in this particular instance. (Jede Nation, unabhängig davon, ob sie uns Gutes oder Böses wünscht, soll wissen, dass ... ). Merriam-Webster's Unabridged confirmed my new grammatical understanding of the sentence. In other words, I am now convinced that the structure of the inserted adverbial sub clause is as follows:
whether - it - wishes - us - well or ill
conjunction - subject - verb - object - object
Grammar itself as well as a person's understanding of it are a work in progress - always. That's why I promised my readers in my book that on my website I would "keep a log of errors found and new insights gained and additional example sentences discovered." Addressing issues in blog posts is one way of doing just that.
And that's it for today, I think. If you have any questions about these or other grammar and language issues, send me an email or write a comment in the comment section below this post. I will love to hear from you.
Best wishes and love,
There are various versions of Kennedy's speech floating around. So far I have seen three different versions of the sentence at hand. In addition to the version I quote above, there is also one where the comma separating the infinitive of purpose has been left out, and then there is a version where the infinitive of purpose is introduced by the prep phrase "in order to." (Both versions of the infinitive of purpose are an abridgement of a clause of purpose, of course.)