It has been about 230 years, since the Constitution was written. For a house, we would say it deserves refurbishment. For text, we can update the language form, especially if there is grammar on the horizon: the Constitution is a “syntax bonanza”, that is, an exceptionally rich resource. We only cannot have language forms that are hundreds of years aged, for modern grammar.
We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
→ Feel welcome to the updated form over the Grammar Weblog. The civics are predicted for part three, speech part and syntax. The following is to tell briefly how I made the update.
We can relate the grammatical articles, definite and indefinite, to semantic categories and types. We may regard the definite article as akin to the Greek τώς, meaning “in this wise” (please see Perseus).
A semantic category might embrace a type:
We, the people of the United States…
The type here, the people of the United States, belongs with a wider notion, that of people generally. Our semantic category is the human being, homo sapiens.
Classic grammar guidance, as it was 230 years ago, tended to regard the articles in phrases.
When we want to expand our phrases with the particle of, classic grammar still would favor the definite article, unless we are clearly unspecific:
those bound to service for a term of years…
Accordingly, the Constitution would have a clause as
No preference shall be given, by any regulation of commerce or revenue, to the ports of one State over those of another…
Modern American English is more generative. A phrase as
the ports of a State
might imply we select from
ports of a State.
In simple words, the phrasing may suggest there is a type of ports to choose from; by comparison, the territory below is a selection from US territory overall, as the land or water does not entire belong to the government (Article VI):
The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations, respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States.
We may compare another phrasing in the Constitution:
nor shall vessels bound to, or from one State, be obliged to enter, clear, or pay duties in another.
The reference for both ports and vessels is that of a set, not type.
We can join our perceptions on the articles with those on big or small letters, that is, capitalization.
Let us think about our rationale for spellings as the House of Representatives, the Senate, or the Supreme Court.
If we said it is for a highlight or respect, we would be highlighting or respecting Nazis, or Adolf Hitler for example.
If we said it is for the specific geographic locality, a phrase as the Congress is not in session would not make sense: the Capitol Hill remains in place.
Let us compare.
The Congress shall have power to make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces.
To exercise exclusive legislation, in all cases whatsoever, over such district (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular States and acceptance of the Congress, become the seat of the Government of the United States…
We can use big letters with defined notional sets. It is with regard to the Greek politeia, along with Montesquieu’s tripartite governmental power, that we recognize the Legislative, the Executive, and the Judiciary.
The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend…
A defined set together with a classic phrasing might imply selection, here, expectation on some judges only (Article III, Section 1):
The Judges, both of the Supreme and inferior courts, shall hold their offices during good behavior…
We can tell it is a matter of the grammatical canon, looking to Article II, Section 2:
The President (…) shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers, and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers…
Using the definite article and saying, The President shall appoint *the Judges of the Supreme Court, might imply that Supreme Judges could be changed even every four years, since the President is the one in office, and *the Judges would be those to work during the term.
The grammatical canon was evidently phrasal, for Article III Section 1, as well as Article IV Section 2: the definite article comes with the beginning of the sentence, both on the parchment and in John Carter’s print.
The Judges (…) shall hold their offices during good behavior…
The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities…
Parchment and print, let us analyze Article IV, Section 2.
The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States.
Today, a phrase as the citizens of a State would be likely interpreted as “some citizens”. To compare the phrase, we the people, our semantic category is people generally, or people in the world entire. However, a phrase as “citizens of the world” remains a figure of speech associated with Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Amendment XIV, Section 1 clarifies on the legal thought:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.
American English was becoming more generative already at the time the Constitution was being written and printed. Article III, Section 2:
The Judicial power shall extend (…) to controversies between a State and citizens of another State; between citizens of different States; between citizens of the same State claiming lands under grants of different States; and between a State, or the citizens thereof, and foreign States, citizens, or subjects.
Here, the phrase “the citizens” is as “different from the authorities”; the phrase “citizens, or subjects” for foreign States is appositive: it tells the persons could be also subjects.
Prediction on procedures encourages the definite article:
The Congress shall have power to provide for the punishment of counterfeiting the securities and current coin of the United States.
Let us compare Article IV Section 4:
The United States shall guarantee, to every State in this Union, a republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion; and, on application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened), against domestic violence.
Article V says:
The Congress, whenever two-thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution; or, on the application of the Legislatures of two-thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing amendments.
In Article V, the matter is about developing a procedure for behavior to be voluntarily repeated, as proposing amendments.
Let us be mindful about the adjective. Procedural knowledge in psychology today, and quite another way round, is defined as knowledge we acquire by doing something. It is the declarative lore we would use for making procedures as in Article V.
We may finish here with the First Amendment and cognitive regards:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
To say, the Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, the hint might be for the other defined sets within US governmental powers, the Executive or the Judiciary, to make such regulations. The Amendment does not imply any such power.
Classic grammars may interpret the verb form “shall” as a “false imperative” or a word to express a resolve. For the Oxford Learners Dictionary it might show that someone “is determined”, or “wants to give an order or instruction”.
We absolutely cannot believe that for American English.
The Constitution says,
The trial of all crimes, except in cases of impeachment, shall be by jury; and such trial shall be held in the State where the said crimes shall have been committed.
Let us think how the story began. In British English, the word form “shall” actually belonged with monarchy, for quite a proportion of time. Early Anglo-Saxon poetry would tell about “a king who shall win a queen”. To use the verb with the first person singular, that is, to say I shall, was up to royals or their service.
British commoners and other people, if they used the verb form “shall”, it was mostly with the third person, he, she, or it. For own resolves, the verb form “will” prevailed.
With American liberty and freedom, human ability to say I will grew stronger; the verb form “will” became fit for the third person, he, she, or it, to tell about high probability as well. The verb form “shall” has become suppositive. In the Constitution, it belongs with contexts we also think “if”, or “when the circumstance is”.
The word sense for “shall” always brings in at least a default premise. Procedures to prosecute crime are implemented if crime occurs. Bills become law if they are approved. For certainty or determination we would have the word shape “will”.
Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate shall, before it becomes a law, be presented to the President of the United States; if he approves, he shall sign it…
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