The following is from the 12th chapter of Psalms in the King James Bible:

5 For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the LORD; I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him. 6 The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. 7 Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.

The anaphor "them" in verse 7 can be associated to either the antecedent "words" of verse 6, or the "poor" and "needy" of verse 5. It's clear in other translations that the proper coreference is "them" and the "poor and needy," however verse six causes a disruption in the English language and introduces a new antecedent, "the words."

Verse six reads more like a side-note on verse 5 (specifically, the promise to arise and protect), a deviation from the direct message. Is there a name for these types of meta-statements that may show up from time to time in discussions. If so, what types of rules govern their usage?

I am trying to find out if it's possible to objectively demonstrate the correct antecedent when something like this takes place.

  • 4
    You want to "objectively demonstrate the correct antecedent when something like this takes place"? I don't even understand the antecedent to this in your last sentence. Lawyers argue about "this" kind of thing all the time. So do Biblical scholars. The point I'm making is that any interpretation you choose to make is not likely to be unequivocal.
    – Robusto
    Sep 11 '11 at 20:29
  • @Robusto "This" is referring to the style of commentary used in verse 6. Verse 6 serves as a type of reinforcement for the comment that precedes it. Perhaps there is not an unequivocal answer, but knowing some general rules to govern this type of language would be appreciated.
    – Sampson
    Sep 11 '11 at 20:34

Though this sounds like it should have a very particular figure of speech category for it (having to do with commenting on ones own reliability), there is a figure that encompasses this:


insertion of a partially relevant idea within a stream of related ideas, almost a tangent (wikipedia, handbook of rhetorical devices, opundo ).

As to how to resolve the anaphora, yes, any previous plural noun -could- be the referent. An objective way to decide would be to try all of them and see which makes the most sense. Also one could completely disregard the parenthetical statement. These strategies won't be perfect because narrative construction (of the referents) isn't so rule bound. The context and plausibility of the substitution is what will disambiguate.


You could say that this was a type of non-restrictive appositive:

Apposition is a grammatical construction in which two elements, normally noun phrases, are placed side by side, with one element serving to define or modify the other.

In this case however, it isn't two noun phrases, but two sentences. Verse 6 is an appositive concerning what the LORD said.


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