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passage is faulty in this respect : “ I know that alt * words which are signs of complex ideas, furnish mat
ter of mistake and cavil f.”. As words, the antecedent, has neither the article nor a demonstrative pronoun to connect it with the subsequent relative, it would seem that the clause,“ which are signs of com
plex ideas,” were merely explicative, and that the subject words were to be understood in the utmost latitude. This could not be the writer's sense, as it would be absurd to affirm of all words, that they are signs of complex ideas. He ought therefore to have said either, “ I know that all the words which are signs “of complex ideas,"--or, “ I know that all those " words which are signs—”. Either of these ways makes the clause beginning with the relative serve to limit the import of the antecedent.
There are certain cases, it must be owned, wherein the antecedent would require the article, even though the relative were intended solely for explication, as in these words of the psalmist : “ My goodness extendeth “ not to thee; but to the saints, and to the excellent
ones, in whom is all my delight *.” The last clause is probably not restrictive, the words saints and excel
boutit à la reformation, est le vrai repentir.” The like indistinctness will be found to obtain in Italian and some other modern languages, and arises, in a great measure, from their giving the article almost invariably to abstracts. # Bolingbroke's Dissertation on Parties, Let. 12.
* Psalm xvi. 2, 3.
The double meaning.... Part II. Ambiguity.
lent ones necessarily requiring the article. Now, when such antecedents are followed by a determinative, they ought, for distinction's sake, to be attended with the demonstrative pronoun, as thus, " ---but to those saints, and to those excellent ones in whom
THROUGH not attending to this circumstance, the translators of the Bible have rendered the following passage ambiguous, even in regard to the antecedent: " There stood by me this night the angel of God, whose “ I am, and whom I serve t." The relatives here whose and whom refer more regularly to angel than to God. This, however, is not agreeable to the sense of the apostle. The words, therefore, ought to have been translated “ ---an angel of the God,” or, " --of that “God, whose I am, and whom I serve .” For though the term god in strict propriety can be applied only to one, and may therefore be thought to stand on the same footing with proper names, it is, in the common way of using it, an appellative, and follows the construction of appellatives. Thus we say, " the God of " Abraham,” “ the God of armies.” Besides, Paul in the passage quoted was speaking to heathens; and this circumstance gives an additional propriety to the article.
For an instance of ambiguity in the construction of the
pronoun his, I shall borrow an example from a French grammarian * ; for though an equivocal word
† Acts xxvii. 23.
Η ΑγγελG- τε Θεε, ε ειμει και ο λαθρεμα..
can rarely be translated by an equivocal word, it is very easy, when two languages have a considerable degree of similarity in their structure and analogy, to transfer an ambiguity from one to the other. The instance I mean is this, “ Lisias promised to his father
never to abandon his friends.” Were they his own friends, or his father's, whom Lisias promised never to abandon? This sentence rendered literally would be ambiguous in most modern tongues *. In the earliest and simplest times, the dramatic manner in which people were accustomed to relate the plainest facts, served effectually to exclude all ambiguities of this sort from their writings. They would have said, “ Lisias
gave a promise to his father in these words, I will “ never abandon my friends,” if they were his own friends of whom he spoke; “ your friends," if they were his father's. It is, I think, to be regretted, that the moderns have too much departed from this primitive simplicity. It doth not want some advantages, besides that of perspicuity. It is often more picturesque, as well as more affecting ; though, it must be owned, it requires so many words, and such frequent repetitions of he said, he answered, and the like, that the dialogue, if long, is very apt to grow irksome. But it is at least pardonable to adopt this method occasionally, where it can serve to remove an ambigui
* It would not be ambiguous in Latin. The distinction which obtains in that tongue between the pronouns suus and ejus, would totally preclude all doubt,
The double meaning.... Part I. Ambiguity.
ty. As the turn which Buffier gives the sentence in French, in order to avoid the double meaning, answers equally well in English, I shall here. literally translate it. On the first supposition, “ Lisias, speaking of his
friends, promised to his father, never to abandon " them.” On the second supposition,“ Lisias, speak
ing of his father's friends, promised to his father, never to abandon them [.”
It is easy to conceive, that, in numberless instances, the pronoun he will, in like manner, be ambi
I even think, that the turn of the sentence is easier in English than in French: “ Lisias, parlant des amis de son pere à son pere “ même, lui promit de ne les abandoner jamais.” It may be thought that, on the first supposition, there is a shorter way of removing the doubt. Ses propres amis in French, and his own friends in English, would effectually answer the end. But, let it be observed, that the introduction of this appropriating term hath an exclusive appearance with regard to others, that might be very unsuitable. I observe further, that the distinction in English between his and ber, precludes several ambiguities that affect most other European tongues. Suppose the promise had been made to the mother instead of the father, the simple enunciation of it would be equally ambiguous in French as in the other case. “ Lisias promit à sa mere “ de n'abandoner jamais ses amis," is their expression, whether they be his friends or her's, of whom he speaks. If it were a daughter to her father, the case would be the same with them, but different with us. I may remark here, by the way, how much more this small distinction, in regard to the antecedent, conduces to perspicuity, than the distinctions of gender and number in regard to the nouns with which they are joined. As to this last connection, the place of the pronoun always ascertains it, so that, for this
purpose at least, the change of termination is superfluous.
guous, when two or males happen to be mentioned in the same clause of a sentence. In such a case, we ought always either to give another turn to the expression, or to use the noun itself, and not the pronoun ; for when the repetition of a word is necessary, it is not offensive. The translators of the Bible have often judiciously used this method ; I say judiciously, because, though the other method be on some occasions preferable, yet, by attempting the other, they would have run a much greater risk of destroying that beautiful simplicity, which is an eminent characteristic of the language of holy writ. I shall take an instance from the speech of Judah to his brother Joseph in Egypt : “ We said to my lord, The lad cannot “ leave his father; for if he should leave his father, “ his father would die *.” The words his father are in this short versé thrice repeated, and yet are not disagreeable, as they contribute to perspicuity. Had the last part of the sentence run thus, “ If he should «« leave his father, he would die.,” it would not have appeared from the expression, whether it was the child or the parent that would die. Some have imagined, that the pronoun ought always regularly to refer to the nearest preceding noun of the same gender and number. But this notion is founded in a mistake, and doth not suit the idiom of any language, ancient or modern. From the rank that some words maintain in the sentence, if I may be allowed that expres
* Gen. xliv. 22.