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Michael Wallerstein
with a Preface by
Ian Robinson

ISBN 978 0 9567048 3 2
50 pp. paperback
demy 8vo £4.80

Spell is the third and last of a series of short books in which Mr Wallerstein defends English against a “loss of linguistic resource” inseparable from the cultural collapse of the last thirty or so years.
     English prose has become much less expressive and coherent, as he demonstrated in Dear Mr Howard. Lexical and grammatical incorrectness in speech is shown, in The Liza Doolittle Syndrome, to be a failure to make sense.
     Now Spell takes on the spelling reformers who say that English spelling is chaotic and needs to be made more simply phonetic. Wallerstein demonstrates that this view comes from a drastically simplified idea of what spelling and punctuation do, and ignores the graphically informative nature of the system—another way of missing linguistic resource.
     The three booklets together constitute a defence of English in our time, that is, of whatever possibility we may have of making sense in our own language.
     They may be had for £4.80 each post free or the set of three post free only from this website for £10.00: to order go to
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  • “He has a sharp eye for orthographic patterns
    . . . and impressive convictions concerning the underlying rules of the written language.”—TLS


    Who Killed the Bible?
    Ian Robinson

    second edition, with a new concluding chapter
    “The English Bible and the Idea of a Christian Society”

    ISBN 978 0 907839 87 3
    xii + 136 pp A5 paperback £9.60

    Mr Robinson’s argument, that all recent English translations of the Bible go wrong because they put into practice both mistaken theories and a mistaken notion of theory, needs to be followed in detail. This much-revised second edition concludes with a new chapter about the relation of the English Bible to the nation. It should be read in conjunction with the downloadable essay “Is the Bible a Book?” listed in the third column on this page.


    Paperback editions of Christopher Morgan's two collections

    The Fire Jump
    and Other Poems


    Stalking the A4

    From the cover of the latter:

    Especially in the twenty-first century it is not faint praise to call a writer a supreme master of the iambic pentameter, and Morgan's fluency in other forms is amazing. But Christopher Morgan should not be offered as a poets' poet, to be relished only by connoisseurs of verse: these poems are moving and funny as well as immediatey appealing.

    For the new edition of The Fire Jump Morgan has included one new poem, discarded the French and Spanish poems, and revised and re-ordered the whole collection.

    Stalking the A4
    978 0 9567048 1 8
    60 pp. demy 8vo £6.00

    The Fire Jump & Other Poems
    978 0 9559996 6 6
    85 pp. demy 8vo £6.00

    To order one or both go to
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  • *

    The St Peter’s
    Chant Book

    compiled and arranged by
    David Wulstan

    This handy-sized volume, made for the choir of St Peter’s College, Oxford, has settings for all the chants of the Matins and Evensong of the Book of Common Prayer. The Psalms are organised by days, as in that Book, and there is a range of alternatives for the Te Deum, Benedictus, Benedicite, Magnificat, Nunc Dimittis and Easter Anthems / Venite. Composers come from all the centuries of Anglican chant and include no less than four Purcells.
         Professor Wulstan is perhaps the only living scholar distinguished both as a Hebraist, a musicologist and a conductor—he founded and for many years conducted the Clerkes of Oxenford, the pioneers of authentic performance of Tudor church music—but is also an experienced church organist and has a good idea of what choirs and congregations are likely to be able to sing well. His advice about phrasing and pointing is practical as well as authoritative.
         The Introduction gives a succinct account of the development of Anglican chant and its relation to the original Hebrew of the Psalms, together with some useful Notes for Musical Directors. A version of this Intro-duction appeared in Faith & Worship 69, Michaelmas 2011, and can be read on the Prayer Book Society website.
         Any musically literate person following the Prayer Book custom of reading through the Psalms once a month could for a change enjoy using this book to sing them, but its most likely users are church and college choirs or choir-led congregations. Any choirmaster or church-warden ordering ten or more copies may have a discount on the already low price: please email us to inquire or to request a specimen copy.
    pp. x + 36
    ISBN 978 0 9567048 2 5
    10.2 x 7.2 inches ringbound, £8.00 post free

    to order go to
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    Directors Brian Lee (chairman)
    Ian Robinson (secretary)
    Michael DiSanto      Duke Maskell

    Since 1970 we have been publishing criticism, fiction, poetry, theology, politics. Our list shows that what Matthew Arnold called criticism of life can still flourish.

    If this page does not show correctly in Internet Explorer, click on Tools at the top of the page, select Compatibility View and tick Display all websites.

          Two of our authors

    Arthur Capey

    died on 31 August 2015.


    John Hadddon

    died suddenly on 28 September 2015.

                            O that each in the day
                            Of His coming may say:
                            I have fought my way through,
          I have finished the work thou didst give me to do!

    COLUMN 118, 14 August 2015,

    “God and Mrs Thatcher”

    a review of what ought to be an important book is too long for this Home Page, partly because the review ends with a catalogue of Doolittlisms. To read, click on the Columns button at the top of this page
    and scroll down.

    * * * * *

    Column 117
    copyright © 2015 The Brynmill Press Ltd

    Language Acquisition
    the Third Realm

    N. B. A more reader-friendly version of this Column can be found in the Columns folder.

    The word seminal gets bandied about in the scholarly world. Perhaps a better word would be critical, though that is likely to be misunderstood. But take critical in both the literary and medical senses. Here is news of a paper that is critical both in forming a judgement about something non-trivial and critical in showing a new direction after a turning-point. This is a large claim to make for a ten-page essay, and therefore, if justified, worth reporting.
         The essay is “How Children can Learn their Mother Tongue: They Don’t”, by Mark Halpern. It is to be printed in the next Journal of Psycholinguistic Research and is now available for free download, subject to copyright restrictions, online.[1] Mr Halpern is not alone in recognising that it is misleading to talk of a child’s “learning” language if “learning” is taken to mean “being told how to do” in much the same sense as when it is said a child learns how to operate a computer. Halpern is not alone, either, in objecting to Noam Chomsky’s idea of the Language Acquisition Device, or LAD, which is said to incorporate Universal Grammar, or UG. The LAD is supposed to be part of the brain of all normal human beings, set off, by the supposedly scanty and unsystematic linguistic data the child happens to hear, to decode the fragments of the particular language heard into the “hard-wired” Universal Grammar. In this picture the child’s language is in a peculiar way hereditary, grown (in one of Chomsky’s images) in much the same way as arms and legs, though not without the stimulus of a natural language. The business of the grammarian is then to show how the particular grammars are all varieties of UG, which is much the same as describing what the LAD does. Bilingual children can be accounted for by a LAD that acquires two languages at the same time, but like some computer programs the LAD only works once, so if we learn new languages at school it is much harder than the toddler’s acquisition of language, and requires deliberate teaching.
         If this is so, if we all have a built-in grammar, all languages are at a deep physiological level the same; the underlying possibilities of sense are the same for any normal human being. Chomsky is accordingly convinced that anything said in one language can be said in another. The noticeable differences between actual languages are “surface” matters, sorted out by this amazing inborn capacity to take the grammar of any language as a variety of the one universal grammar.
         There are problems about reconciling the LAD to orthodox Darwinian evolution, for it is difficult to account for this amazing organ, peculiar to the human race, as having developed in the usual way by very small mutations, but the LAD really is a scientific hypothesis in that it postulates either the existence of an organ within the brain, or a physically identifiable organisation of the whole brain. This is as much a hypothesis as the prediction of an as-yet-undiscovered planet, from calculations of gravitational fields. Alas! the LAD has not been physiologically identified. It is an open question at what point the failure to discover the LAD in the brain or as a particular brain configuration may be taken to have neurologically refuted the hypothesis.
         The more important objection to LAD/UG as grammar, that not all uses of language are translatable, as they must be if the LAD is truly the organ of UG, is often made but largely ignored by means of the empiricist-based positions that all real meaning is propositional, and the meanings of all words analysable into certain universal elements. (Try that, for instance, with love.) So the objection that the translation of Pride and Prejudice into classical Latin falls short of “complete equivalence” is answered by the proposition that all the real meaning can be translated, and what is left over is just of the surface. (Like the difference in style between Mr Collins and Mr Bennet.)
         Mr Halpern proposes a different way of looking at how children begin to talk, a way that need not commit us to either innate universal grammar or infinite translatability. Children do not learn language. “It is language that turns the brain into a mind, and it would be more accurate to say not that the child acquires the language, but that the language acquires the child.” The child’s brain is not a tabula rasa: “He doesn’t even have a tabula—and does not learn a language, but is shaped by it, literally organized by the language he hears.” But this is a short and concentrated article, and needs to be read, not met only in brief quotation.
         The language that shapes the child is naturally the language, or languages, the child hears, normally, firstly from the mother. It follows that “the mother tongue” is a neurologically accurate phrase. If the mother is bilingual or trilingual, or if one parent speaks one language and the other another, the child has two or more native languages. But “native” is only not literal because the process happens after birth.

         It should always be kept in mind that any neurological investigation of language is secondary, depending on an understanding of language that need not appeal at all to brain science, in just the same way that the phonetic investigation of tongue and teeth positions will not itself tell us whether the sounds are those of speech. First we hear and identify the sounds as linguistic sounds, then the experts draw plans of the vocal organs. One equivalent in script is to investigate the shapes of letters, which can only be done when we already know they belong to an alphabet. The kind of neurology the grammarian is interested in will depend on his grammar. Mr Halpern’s hypothesis about language acquisition is nevertheless important because as well as “saving the appearances” it removes a stumbling-block in the path of understanding, by allowing the language for which the child develops an embodied capacity to be the language we, and the individual toddler, actually hear, not the hypothetical universal language waiting to be released.
         If Halpern is right, the difference between an English speaker and a French speaker is (in this aspect) a difference of brain formation. Now any impartial observer knows that, with whatever individual differences, the French are not quite the same as the English. Anybody unconvinced by the UG/LAD hypothesis can accept just by observation that there are profound cultural differences (as well as similarities) between different languages. Mr Halpern has suggested how, physiologically, this may work. This does not make communities more different than we knew they were. France, thank God, is not England. It does give a physiological account which recognises the actualities.
         In turn this suggests a neurological aspect of Leavis’s third-realm philosophy. (Halpern, without any reference to Leavis, calls his thesis “a third way”.) Aristotle notoriously said that man is a social/political animal.* The truth in this is not Spinoza’s opinion that men “are scarcely able to lead a solitary life”,† rather that humanity is by nature, including physiological nature, something shared. Robinson Crusoe leading his solitary life on his island is as much a social animal as the most inveterate tweeter. His nature is to use language, and his language, in which he is himself and not anybody else, is at the same time what he shares with other English individuals. Mr Halpern’s thesis is that the capacity for English (the capacity to generate what Chomsky calls new sentences, and to understand those of others when he gets off the island) has been in his brain ever since he began to talk. But something not quite the same has been in the brain of Man Friday.
         What does communion mean? or community? koinonia? That the individuals who are in communion or who comprise the community have something in common. Here, what they have in common is in its neurological aspect a brain-formation.
         As it happens, this does not make Halpern a racist. Remember the perhaps mythical English-speaking couple who adopted a new-born Chinese baby and hastily began learning Mandarin ready for when he began to speak.
         That the speakers (or writers) of a language have the language in common does not deny the other truth that language only exists in use and that every use without exception exhibits the individuality of a human soul. This element of individuality is itself simultaneously an element of a particular community. Communion is only found in individuals. Halpern’s thesis does support the truth that when we talk, the exercise of individuality is itself koinonia. (Halpern may also have started a train of thought about St Paul’s doctrine: “The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ?‡ Readers may work out the connection.)
         One mark of a critical paper is the reader’s feeling of sudden enlightenment or release. (Doesn’t Wittgenstein somewhere use the image of showing a fly the way out of the bottle?) Read Halpern’s paper and see whether you agree that it is critical!

    1  http://www.springer.com/home?SGWID=0-0-1003-0-0&aqId=2849963&download=1&checkval=551a52508ab4bf82161fed8d9e5b3646 (This does work: we have used it.)
    2  The remark comes in the passage where the city state is asserted to be both natural and the consummation of human associations. (1253a)
    3  Ethics, IV, proposition 35, corollary II, Note; Everyman translation (1910) 1925, p. 164
    4  1 Corinthians x.16, RV margin on communion of: “or, participation in”. Cf. the concept of partaking: literally, to have a part of.

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    Web Texts


    The new edition of Who Killed the Bible?, re-ordered, substantially revised and with a new concluding chapter “The English Bible and the Idea of a Christian Society”, can be had now as an e-book for £4.00.

    The reset editions of Wittgenstein on Frazer and Roger Elliott's “Discourses that Persuade . . .” can both be had as e-texts.


    Is the Bible a Book?
    Ian Robinson

    Modern scholarship tends to ignore the whole by concentrating on the parts and their origins. This essay shows that the Bible can be one book only if the New Testament is allowed to read the Old Testament.


    F. R. Leavis
    the Cambridge Don

    Ian Robinson

    An extensively revised talk previously published in an abridged form in
    The Use of English


    Every Literature Helps
    Presidential Address
    to the Leicester Theological Society
    Duncan Campbell OP

    How literature does good is one of the great questions raised by all serious readers and unlikely to receive a definitive answer. Also, the world’s literature is very extensive. So to survey it in an hour’s lecture, organised around the question (asked from the point of view of a Christian priest) how literature helps, is to undertake at least two daunting tasks at once. Fr Campbell does so jauntily and as a critic with fresh responses to some wonderful works. Because this is genuine criticism it invites replies of the form “yes, but”. The memorable remark on the damnation of the leading characters in Wuthering Heights would be even better if extended to include the self-righteous Nelly Dean. The deepest insight in Bleak House is surely not about renunciation of the beloved but about forgiveness. (On which theme see John Haddon’s book The Comedy of Forgiveness.) And so on. Here, that is, is a treatment of real questions that deserves attention and discussion—as a new demonstration that literary criticism is a non-scientific non-methodical form of thought.


    Poetry in the New Matrix
    The Poet Laureate
    and the Bane
    Brian Lee

    This thirty-two page pamphlet continues the series that includes Poetry and the System with some reflections on recent events and their bearing on the state of poetry and our common life.


    A. C. Capey

    Mr Capey’s long-promised criticism of twentieth-century Bible translations

    F. R. Leavis
    David Matthews

    Mr Matthews’s memories of more than sixty years, going back to the great days of Downing, are a fresh testimony to the greatest English critic of modern times.