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CHAUCER

The following is a translated sentence from The Canterbury Tales, written by Chaucer around 1350. I see no signs of our modern grammar,I see a sequence of phrases. And it makes sense as a sequence of phrase.

This duke, the one I'm telling you about, had almost reached his home, happy and proud, amid the noise, the waving banners, and crowds, when suddenly he saw, right at the edge of the highway, a group of weeping ladies begging for his attention, kneeling, all of them clad in black, two by two in rows, and madly calling for him to stop and hear them, creating noises so wild, unending, clearly half crazed with woe far worse than anyone alive had ever heard, never stopping their cries until, by reaching up, they grasped his bridle.

First, I can understand the fullgrammar up to about 2/3 of the way through the sentence, then I lose it. It doesn't matter, because this makes perfect sense as a sequence of phrases.

Second, it is well known that the punctuation for English was developed starting around 1500. I assumed that the fullgrammar was already in place and they were just developing the punctuation to express it. I am not a student of history, but it looks like they were inventing punctuation and our fullgrammar -- Chaucer is a sequence of phrases.

Third. As a sequence of phrases, Chaucer is written well -- the phrases make sense by themselves or with reference to the preceding phrases. It is as if Chaucer was good at writing in Sequential Phrase Grammar. But he could get to the same place by simply trying to write clearly -- if he had no fullgrammar and could rely on only Sequential Phrase Grammar.

Fourth. This begins with a left-dislocation. That is a common grammatical construction that works well in sequential phrase grammar, but has almost fallen out of use in modern writing.

Fifth, and this is important. Chaucer is actually written in verse, I took out the verse in the above. Verse is essentially another type of punctuation for breaking up a sentence. In theory, with this extra way of breaking up a sentence, there is less need for a period.

Which is to say, Chacer might have been writing long sentences only because he was also writing verse. Odd thought, right? I am not a student of history, I warned you about that, but it would be ironical if writers for the next 500 used long sentences only because they copied each other and thought short sentences would look silly and unprofessional.

HAWTHORNE

I am going to temporarily jump ahead to Hawthorne. He is the first author I know of writing with fullgrammar, which is to say, in a grammatical style that would fit the teaching in any modern classroom. His style will seem different only because, when a comma was optional by modern standards, he included it.
The truth seems to be, however, that, when he casts his leaves forth upon the wind, the author addresses, not the many who will fling aside his volume, or never take it up, but the few who will understand him, better than most of his schoolmates or lifemates.
This cannot be understood as a sequence of phrases, because it has too many embedded phrases. So, in the 500 years between Chaucer and Hawthorne, the writing changed from flawless sequential grammar with no fullgrammar to flawless fullgrammar but no sequential phrase grammar.

(You need to be able to feel the difference between Chaucer and Hawthorne. Chaucer lets you drift along and forget the fullgrammar; Hawthorne forces you to understand the fullgrammar. That's why I interrupted the historical flow to show you Hawthorne.)

SHAKESPEARE

Shakespeare wrote plays, which means all dialogue. So he could have written as people spoke, though this seems highly unlikely. This is from (Hamlet, 1559-1602). This is quite a jump in time from Chaucer, and I think at this time they had the full punctuation of English. He is still writing verse. This time I will leave in the verse. One sentence:
Good now, sit down, and tell me, he that knows, Why this same strict and most observant watch So nightly toils the subject of the land; And why such daily cast of brazen cannon, And foreign mart for implements of war; Why such impress of shipwrights, whose sore task Does not divide the Sunday from the week; What might be toward, that this sweaty haste Doth make the night joint-labourer with the day: Who is't that can inform me? (79 words)

The most obvious difference (I hope!) is the semicolon. However, it is not being used in our modern grammatical way. Instead, my impression, is that it is being used as a super-comma. Which is to say, the comma makes smaller division and the semicolon makes larger divisions. The colon makes the largest division (and you can still sometimes see this recommendation for these three marks).

The comma is also not being used in the modern way, and the single colon has the same problem.

Note second of all that, unlike Chaucer, this is untranslated. (For example, the word impress is being used in an old-fashioned way.) That might be why it is harder to understand.

Milton

Milton (Paradise Lost, first published in 1667) was written in verse. I will present it -- but it's nearly nonsense to me. I think it makes more sense out of verse.
Of Man's first disobedience, and the fruit of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste brought death into the World, and all our woe, with loss of Eden, till one greater Man restore us, and regain the blissful seat, sing, Heavenly Muse, that, on the secret top of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire that shepherd who first taught the chosen seed in the beginning how the heavens and earth rose out of Chaos: or, if Sion hill delight thee more, and Siloa's brook that flowed fast by the oracle of God, I thence invoke thy aid to my adventurous song, that with no middle flight intends to soar above th' Aonian mount, while it pursues things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.
I want to just say this is nonsense, but that turns out to be wrong. I think the grammatical structure is (rearranged, lightly translated)
Sing, Heavenly Muse (who, on the secret top of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire that shepherd who first taught the chosen seed in the beginning how the heavens and earth rose out of Chaos), of Man's first disobedience, and the fruit of that forbidden tree (whose mortal taste brought death into the World, and all our woe, with loss of Eden, till one greater Man restore us, and regain the blissful seat.)
So, what we now have is an almost undeciperable fullgrammar, almost up to modern standards.
Of Man's first disobedience, and the fruit of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste brought death into the World, and all our woe, with loss of Eden, till one greater Man restore us, and regain the blissful seat, sing, Heavenly Muse, that, on the secret top of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire that shepherd who first taught the chosen seed in the beginning how the heavens and earth rose out of Chaos
Milton's nonfiction is more understandable, but you can see the same complicated fullgrammar. I will "correct" some of the spellings, leaving:
I deny not but that there may be such a king, who may regard the common good before his own, may have no vitious favourite, may harken only to the wisest and incorruptest of his Parliament: but this rarely happens in a monarchy not elective; and it behooves not a wise nation to commit the sum of their well-being, the whole of their safety to fortune. And admit, that monarchy of itself may be convenient to some nations, yet to us who have thrown it out, received back again, it cannot be prove pernicious.
This is again a full grammar with an odd use of semicolons and colons.

SWIFT

Jumping ahead to Johnathan Swift (Gulliver's Travels, 1726-7). This sentence is, I am pretty sure, ungrammatical. It makes good sense as sequential phrases:
He sent me to Emanuel College in Cambridge at fourteen years old, where I resided three years, and applied myself close to my studies; but the charge of maintaining me, although I had a very scanty allowance, being too great for a narrow fortune, I was bound apprentice to Mr. James Bates, an eminent surgeon in London, with whom I continued four years.
This, on the other hand, has an embedded phrase, so it expects the reader to use grammar. It is grammatically correct, except that isn't easy to see because of the old-fashioned use of commas
I hope you will be ready to own publicly, whenever you shall be called to it, that by your great and frequent urgency you prevailed on me to publish a very loose and uncorrect account of my travels, with directions to hire some young gentleman of either university to put them in order, and correct the style, as my cousin Dampier did, by my advice, in his book called A Voyage round the world.
And this is a old-fashioned use of semi-colons:
But I do not remember I gave you power to consent that any thing should be omitted, and much less that any thing should be inserted; therefore, as to the latter, I do here renounce every thing of that kind; particularly a paragraph about her majesty Queen Anne, of most pious and glorious memory; although I did reverence and esteem her more than any of human species.

The Declaration of Independence

A fascinating document, at least for looking at PaG, is the Declaration of Independence. (Note that this was written in a second-world country.) I will first present it as is, then with the use of commas corrected.
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
When, in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
The following is an extreme in interrupted phrases. Just so you know to look for it, it's We do solemnly publish and declare...
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that...
One noteworthy thing is the use of semicolons. They are used for division, but not in the modern way. You might remember the same being said about Austen (Jane Eyre, 19xx), though she seems closer to modern style.

DICKENS