THE FIFTH CORNER.

I wrote to Boris Dralyuk asking him about the Russian phrase пятый угол [pyaty ugol] ‘fifth corner,’ which Brodsky uses in a couple of poems in a way that was opaque to me (in “Кентавры” “спрятавшись в пятый угол” ‘hidden in the fifth corner,’ and in “Элегия” “заштриховывать пятый угол” ‘to shade the fifth corner’); his explanation was so surprising and enlightening I thought I’d share it here, since other lovers of Russian will probably have as much difficulty finding references to it in books or online as I did:

The “fifth corner” is a cruel children’s game, in which bullies push a younger student around the four corners of a classroom until he “finds the fifth corner”; police took this up, and would offer a suspect the chance to escape the interrogation if he were to “find the fifth corner.” In the broader metaphorical sense, it signifies the desperate, foolhardy attempt to escape one’s fate — a pipe dream.

The things they don’t tell you in Russian class!

Incidentally, Boris was in the UK for the Translators’ Coven in Oxford and various Poetry Week events in London; I wish I could have been there, and I look forward to Lizok‘s report.

Comments

  1. Thanks for passing this on – I for one am glad to know about it!

  2. I’ve taught in a classroom with five concave corners (and one convex one – it was L-shaped). If the school had had any Russian bullies, would they have played ‘sixth corner’, or found another classroom, or just used the standard, but no longer accurate, name?

  3. I don’t think it really existed in grade school, it was more like a jailhouse legend.
    Искать пятый угол ~~ искать вчерашний день – to be lost, restless, insecure, perhaps in the grips of OCD and repeatedly engaging in some meaningless activity. When my dogs gets obsessive and lurks from place to place around the house, then we’d say the poor creature’s looking for the fifth corner

  4. Boris D. says

    Dmitry’s right — that is another use of the phrase, but it refers to much the same anxious internal state: the desire to find comfort where none can be found.
    The first paragraph of this essay by A. Naiman describes the game as it is often played, with an unwilling participant in the center:
    http://www.e-slovo.ru/467/nayman.htm
    There is a variant with a willing participant. The definition in B. Gorbunov and S. Grigor’ev’s UDAL’ – MOLODETSKAIA, SILA – BOGATYRSKAIA: TRADITSIONNYE NARODNYE IGRY (1995) begins: “Пятый угол. Найти (искать) пятый угол. Эта старая игра и сейчас нередко встречается в среде подростков, реже более взрослой молодежи. Здесь 4 – 5 или более играющих выбирают водящего, которому и предлагается “найти пятый угол”. Он становится в центр расположившихся вокруг него играющих и… начинает медленно наклоняться и падать в сторону одного из игроков. Его нужно удержать и толчком рук направить его падение в направлении другого…”
    Here is an example of the “willing participant” variant being played in the wild:
    http://vk.com/video-27090417_159979207
    Here’s a description of the (quite real) NKVD variant, with citations, from Igal Halfin’s STALINIST CONFESSIONS:
    http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=bZ-INPNY6-EC&lpg=PA271&ots=8vPLNuEvNi&dq=%22piatyi%20ugol%22%20halfin&pg=PA271#v=onepage&q=%22piatyi%20ugol%22%20halfin&f=false

  5. Thanks for posting this, Hat! I really enjoy reading your posts about the shadowier corners of Russian language and literature.

  6. Boris D. says

    And here’s another account from one our favorites, Aksyonov:
    I remember I was in a restaurant when we heard about the (Hungarian – BD) uprising and what had happened. A friend of mine, a poet, cried out, “Guys, how long are we going to stand this stinking garbage? We must start something. Let’s go start a fight with them tomorrow. Tomorrow let’s get together at a certain time and a certain place and start fighting!” So the next day I went–but nobody else showed up! I was alone, but I was outraged, and so I started screaming, “You bastards! You will see, the tanks will some day come for you!” I was arrested, of course, and they took me to the local headquarters and started beating me, making me look for the “fifth corner.” In Russia that is how it is known–they would stand in all four corners of the room and beat you, making you look for the fifth corner of the room–and I was most certainly looking for this fifth corner! They were drunk and were yelling at me, calling me a fascist, and I yelled back, “No, you are the fascists!” I thought they were going to beat me to death, but then a friend of mine showed up–he had been looking for me. They didn’t want any witnesses, so finally they stopped beating me and let me go.
    http://www.sovlit.net/conversationswithaksyonov/

  7. Great links, Boris! The UK link for Stalinist Confessions (which looks like a really interesting book) didn’t work for me, but this one did (search on “ugol”; it’s on page 271).

  8. I’ve always thought that finding the fifth corner was something similar to squaring the circle, didn’t know this meaning.
    I had a quick look on the internet. The phrase seems to be used a lot in a more positive sense of the ‘last refuge’ or ‘last hope.’ There is a Kazakh TV programme, a St-Pete’s hotel and a cafe, among other things.

  9. thanks for explaining something like this just in case someone needs to search it up on google 8 years later, like me 🙂

  10. My pleasure, and I’m glad people keep finding it useful!

  11. Trond Engen says

    Not really relevant, but Norw. glane i femte veggen* “stare at the fifth wall” means “gaze into the air”

    Or did mean. My mother used it all the time. My kids probably won’t recognize it.

    * Note the suffixed definite article. Unsullied by Danish,

  12. Lars Mathiesen says

    What are you blaming us for now? Using two articles was never our idea. The Swedes, now… (Actually I don’t know if that came into Standard Swedish from East Norse or West Norse dialects nor if it was invented once or twice).

    But yeah, Danish can’t use the suffixed article when there is an adjective (or numeral, if you don’t want those to be adjectives).

  13. Trond Engen says

    Lars M.: What are you blaming us for now?

    Everything, and then some.

    No, I was too brief. We regularly use the double definite in these constructions (den femte veggen), Danish can only use the free-standing definite (den femte væg). I believe the double definite is a merger of “Danish” den femte væg with older femte veggen. This happened in both Swedish and Norwegian, so the older isogloss is rather between south and north or perhaps between urban and rural. Either way, Danish can deflect blame and pass it on to Low German.

    In contemporary language I sense that the (presumed archaic) construction with only the suffixed definite article (femte veggen) is more common in Swedish than Norwegian, but my sensibilities may well be skewed by exposure to literary ruralisms.

  14. Icelandic, as I understand it, has the suffix and the freestanding article, but only uses one or the other. I wonder what using both sounds like to a native speaker: bad foreigner’s speech? Jokey cleverness?

  15. Lars Mathiesen says

    Danish has both as well, but selects the free standing one when there’s an adjective in the noun phrase. More or less — some adjectives sort of count as determiners, and then you use the suffix.

    et bord
    to borde
    bordet
    bordene
    hele bordet
    alle bordene
    de to borde
    det grønne bord
    de grønne borde

    Just to make it easier, in some cases numerals will make a noun phrase definite without either: tredje sal = ‘fourth floor’, anden afkørsel til venstre = ‘second exit to the left’. Swedish will have tredie våningen and andra avfarten til vänster with suffixes (only), for Norwegian it probably depends on whether the house or road is on the east or west side of the mountain.

  16. David Marjanović says

    sal […] våningen

    Oh wow, this is like the Slavic “year ~ hour ~ time” words. German: Saal “large representative room ~ hall”, Wohnung “apartment”…

  17. Lars Mathiesen says

    Well, Da sal does have the German sense in general, and the same for Sw våning. They have somewhat randomly been pressed into service for designating floors in a multi-storey building, like floor and Stock. Da can also use etage < Fr (cognate with E stage). The point is that it’s only when designating floors that a numeral is enough to make the noun phrases definite.

    TIL: The accepted story seems to be that “better” homes in the city often had a large function room (salen) above the regular living quarters, and if that got (re)furbished into an apartment* it would be på salen. With more stories, you would have the first “hall,” second “hall” and so on even if they were constructed as separate units from the start.

    Also I never answered Y’s query, or its Danish equivalent: Yes, getting this wrong will by default mark you as a foreigner. You will need some sort of setup to make it clever instead. The solecism I hear most often is using det bord aso. for ‘the table’ instread of ‘that table’ — a nice distinction, but mandatory.
    __________
    * in the etymological sense, I guess.

  18. Lars Mathiesen says

    Oh, and that just so story also explains why the ground floor is called stuen = ‘the living room [floor],’ and why floors are numbered stuen, 1. sal, 2. sal, … — it’s not just to confuse Americans who count the ground floor as number one. They kept this knowledge from me all my life! (And that is if the builder didn’t interpose a mezzanine floor). BITD the first floor was often a beletage with fancier windows and higher ceilings

  19. Trond Engen says

    Norwegian 1. etasje, 2. etasje, … counting from the ground level. Colloquially it turns into a compound førstetasje, andretasje, …. This can also have a suffixed definite article førstetasjen etc., maybe especially when talking about a specific first/ground floor — Jeg bor i fjerdetasje “I live on (some) 3rd/4th floor” but Jeg bor i fjerdetasjen “I live on the 3rd/4th floor (of a specific building)” — but this is more a tendency than a rule.

    Den første etasjen would stress the counting rather than the ordered numbering: Den første etasjen vi tok i bruk, var kjelleren “The first floor we made use of (moved into) was the basement”.

  20. Lars Mathiesen says

    So we confuse the Norwegians as well! (Swedish has bottenvåningen, första våningen aso. Except when the side of the house with the entrance is so much higher than the other [typically the loading bay] that you enter on the fourth floor — in those cases the floor below the first floor may get some other designation).

    As I said, you can use etage in Danish as well. But to avoid confusing ourselves, we count them stueetagen, første etage aso. If the space under the (peaked) roof is furnished, you get a tagetage [tˢɑu̥etaʃɵ] which can be hard to read on the first try because Danish phonotactics predict that it’s a (non-existing) compound tage-tage [tˢaətˢaə].

  21. Rodger Cunningham says

    US data point: Indiana U’s main classroom building has both a ground floor and a first floor. Like several IU buildings, it’s built on a slope and has outside doors on both floors.

  22. January First-of-May says

    Da can also use etage < Fr (cognate with E stage)

    Russian этаж is of the same origin. (The ground floor is первый этаж “first etage”; if there are floors below that, it goes to 0 and then the negatives.)

    Random anecdote: in the Shchyolkovsky mall (that is, ТЦ Щёлковский, the one near Shchyolkovskaya metro station, not to be confused with Shchyolkovo mall [ТЦ Щёлково] two kilometers to the east), the elevator loudspeakers always announce floors with a clear voiced /ʐ/ at the end of the word. It always sounds to me like there’s a very short vowel at the very end, and I can’t tell if it’s actually there or if it’s just my internal phonotactics introducing one because they can’t make sense of a voiced consonant in that position otherwise.

  23. the elevator loudspeakers always announce floors with a clear voiced /ʐ/ at the end of the word
    Looks like someone fed just letter values to the voice program without taking into account phonotactics.
    A bit similar to how my car navigation reads French street names according to the rules of German orthography when I’m driving in France or Belgium.

  24. It might make sense if your other source of information is street signs and not some native speaker giving you an address or something.

  25. David Eddyshaw says

    how my car navigation reads French street names according to the rules of German orthography when I’m driving in France

    I actually find this quite confusing, as the Brit satnav renderings can be pretty distant from yer actual French.

    (It’s just occurred to me that there must be some way of just getting the damn things to speak French. Never thought about it before …)

  26. @Sashura (2013): “There is a Kazakh TV programme, a St-Pete’s hotel and a cafe, among other things…”

    There’s a star-like intersection in St. Petersburg informally known as the Five Corners. It’s mentioned in The Idiot: “She lives off Vladimirskaya, near the Five Corners…” (P-V).

  27. Stu Clayton says

    there must be some way of just getting the damn things to speak French

    Are you sure you want to go down that road ? Being ordered around by a hoity-toity hexagonal female accent – or worse, a male one ? With any other dialect you’ll have to puzzle over the phonemes, which will distract you from keeping on the right side of the rue.

    Best stick with Matron.

  28. Lars Mathiesen says

    I like to set Waze to give me directions in Mexican Spanish just to get practice listening to a few phrases, but luckily they have one voice that does not even attempt pronouncing Danish street names. They are more or less unrecognizable from the voices that do. (However it has a strange mix of usted and tú forms, ¡Tome la primera salida! but ¡Has llegado a tu destino!!!).

  29. PlasticPaddy says

    @lars
    Is tome subjunctive of desire here?

  30. It’s the polite imperative. (There’s a conjugation table at Wiktionary.)

  31. @Lars Mathiesen: in some dialects of Brazilian Portuguese, people can use você and tu interchangeably and sometimes use third-person verb forms with tu. Examples from Quora: “Tu vai [2nd] lá na farmácia e me traz [3rd] uma Neosaldina e uma Aspirina.” “Tu tá [está] mexendo com quem não devia.” Perhaps Spanish works the same in LatAm.

    @PlasticPaddy: The 3rd-person imperative is essentially the 3rd-person subjunctive in Spanish and Portuguese.

  32. Lars Mathiesen says

    The 3rd-person imperative is essentially the 3rd-person subjunctive — I’m sure that’s how it developed and the forms are still identical for all verbs, but in modern Spanish positive imperatives take enclitic pronouns, or rather the subjunctive present doesn’t (I think it used to be an option): ¡Dígannos la verdad! ~ No creemos que nos digan la verdad. So essentially it depends on what’s essential.

    Anyway, as I said the culprit is supposed to be speaking Mexican Spanish, no vos in sight, only and usted. In the grammars I’ve seen there was no mention of using 3p verb forms with (or vos) in any LatAm Spanish — vos has its own set of forms, but I think I saw that some varieties do use those with ,

  33. David Marjanović says

    in modern Spanish positive imperatives take enclitic pronouns, or rather the subjunctive present doesn’t

    Shouldn’t that be explained as a matter of word order – verb-initial in imperative sentences?

  34. vos has its own set of forms, but I think I saw that some varieties do use those with

    Verbal voseo.

  35. David Eddyshaw says

    verb-initial in imperative sentences

    This seems to be very common cross-linguistically (not just a SAE thing.)

    Even Kusaal, which is rigidly SVO (all deviations, even of interrogative pronouns, being either specifically marked as preposing constructions or counting as dislocation, with resumptive pronouns being mandatory) nevertheless sticks the 2pl subject pronoun after the verb in direct commands.

    Sumerian ups the ante by sticking all the verbal agreement and flexional prefixes after the verb in the imperative. Respect.

  36. Lars Mathiesen says

    Shouldn’t that be explained — I get the impression that there are two camps, one saying “there is no 3p imperative, it’s just a subjunctive,” and the other saying “look, it construes differently from the subjunctive, it’s not the same thing.” (*)

    Sure, everything is the way it is because it became that way, but is it the most parsimonious description of the synchronic facts? In positive imperative sentences, the 3p forms follow exactly the same grammar as the 2p ones, and that is different from a positive subjunctive clause.

    (Negative commands, on the other hand, do use another set of forms in 2p, and you can’t use clitics — Hazlo vs. No lo hagas — exactly like a negative subjunctive clause, so calling those subjunctives seems to be much less controversial(**). But when a positive 2p command uses something that clearly never was a subjunctive, we shouldn’t necessarily say the positive and negative 3p forms are the ‘same’ item now even though they are always identical and one clearly developed from the other).
    _____
    (*) The instances of the former that I’ve seen have had a distinct peever flavour, so I’m instinctually in the other. Maybe school grammars written 100 years ago were in the first camp.
    (**) The big grammar of the RAE does mention that in Uruguay, vos forms like amés are more common in negative commands and forms like ames in subjunctive clauses. So maybe you shouldn’t conflate those two constructions either. (I’m not saying this is the only variant that has a difference, I just happened to spot it while skimming).

  37. David Marjanović says

    Interesting. So they’re diverging for real in Uruguay…

    …and it just dawned on me that what’s used as the imperative with Sie is the present subjunctive (Konjunktiv I) as well. There’s only one verb where you can tell it’s not the indicative: the form of “be” used is seien rather than sind. The trick here is that seien uses the same stem as the 2nd-person imperative (singular sei, plural seid), so it looks like an imperative already – and, apart from this one word, nobody uses the Konj. I natively.

    The Bavarian dialects split the difference by having leveled seien (/san/) into the indicative, losing sind entirely.

  38. There is no third person imperative. There is only Zuul.

  39. John Cowan says

    There is no Zuul south of the White Sausage Equator. There is only Sul.

  40. Stu Clayton says

    nobody uses the Konj. I natively.

    Tsk. Nobody you hang out with, I guess. Think indirect speech.

    In seiner langen Begründung behauptet er unter anderem, der Befund sei nicht zurecht vergeben worden, …, ein Reviewer habe nicht die Kompetenz, seine Freiheit als erfahrener Entwickler zu beschneiden, …

    In this example, more or less a sentence I recently wrote, I used the subjunctive of indirect speech in order to reproduce the guy’s words as exactly as possible. So that I could not be accused of misrepresenting what he said. I often cover my ass in this way in workplace scuffles.

  41. @Stu: that use of the Konjunktiv I is also how I learnt it at school. But that kind of usage has become rare even in professional writing – at most I see people sprinkling a couple of Konjunktiv I forms here and there as if they dimly remember their school grammar for moments, but then they falll back to mostly using indicative forms, as they do when speaking. And in everyday speech I hear it even more rarely. So I think DM’s impression is mostly correct, it’s not “nobody”, but the number of bodies who feels at home using the subjunctive I is small and dwindling by the day.

  42. My high school German teacher insisted on not teaching constructions like that, even in the most advanced classes. He deemed them obsolete, although what Stu wrote, however infrequent, is clearly not obsolete. And yet, I picked up understanding of such constructions without any explicit instruction, once I was able to converse with native speakers

  43. Stu Clayton says

    And yet, I picked up understanding of such constructions without any explicit instruction, once I was able to converse with native speakers

    That’s exactly how I picked them up – by emulation. Once I was in Germany I had no need to open a grammar book. I never learned the categorical systematics anyway.

    The notions of “obsolete” and “feel at home” are woefully inadequate. Deploying them to characterize a complex linguistic environment is like resecting a pancreas with a blunt spoon.

    I don’t know what Hans means by “professional writing”. I don’t know in what circles he and DM are accustomed to move. I assume both of them are describing the world familiar to them – as I do mine. The big difference is that I don’t see my world displacing or ceding to theirs.

  44. Well, the one kind of professional writing where I frequently encounter indirect speech is journalism, which nowadays for me is mostly the Spiegel and whatever news articles internet serendipity leads me to, where I observe what I described. The picture is similar when listening to radio or TV news. Over the last 30 years, I’ve rarely encountered a piece of journalism that uses Konjunktiv I correctly when rendering indirect speech, and the people I have regular interactions with (who mostly have a higher education, so ought to know the rules) mostly also use the indicative in indirect speech instead of the required Konjunktiv I.

  45. There’s also the fifth quarter – almost as offal as the fifth-corner game.

  46. @ Lars. If I understand correctly, you mean here that vos is entirely absent in Mexican Spanish: “the culprit is supposed to be speaking Mexican Spanish, no vos in sight, only tú and usted.

    If so, the pronoun vos is not entirely absent in that variety of the language:

    México

    En casi todo el estado de Chiapas, a excepción de las ciudades mayores,30​ y en regiones rurales del estado de Tabasco,31​.32​[página requerida] El voseo es de tipo verbal con tuteo pronominal.33​30​ Ocurre principalmente entre la población indígena sin escolarizar, lo que incide en que su empleo sea considerado “vulgar” y característico de una persona “poco educada”.32​ Su empleo es generalizado en San Cristóbal de Las Casas,2​ así como en la ciudad de Chiapa de Corzo, en la región de La Fraylesca, y en algunos poblados rurales, todos ellos en el estado de Chiapas.[cita requerida]
    (https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voseo).

    The presence of vos in Chiapas is explained by the fact that during the Spanish colonial period, it was part of the Captaincy General of Guatemala (where vos was frequent, as it still is in the Republic of Guatemala) and only in the 1820s did Chiapas become part of Mexico.

    Since Tabasco was never part of the Captaincy-General of Guatemala, the presence of vos in rural Tabasco (see the quotation above) is to be explained as the result of diffusion from Chiapas and Guatemala, both of which border on Tabasco.

  47. David Marjanović says

    Tsk. Nobody you hang out with, I guess. Think indirect speech.

    Nobody writes natively (or reads aloud natively or gives prepared speeches natively). Journalists are made, not born.

    In journalism and similar fields, the Konjunktiv I is indeed far from obsolete: it continues to be treated as crucial to making explicit that the writer does not mean to express any opinion on whether the indirect quote is true. This is, however, limited by the fact that the K 1 is identical to the indicative outside the 3sg (and the 2sg and 2pl, which practically never occur) – for the other person/number combinations the K 2 is used instead, even though it otherwise means in this context that the writer considers the indirect quote false.

    I haven’t encountered anybody who says things like er sagt, er habe das nicht gemacht outside of special situations like the ones mentioned above; people use the indicative and leave the rest to context. And you have previously said you use the K 1 deliberately in your e-mails to create a somewhat ironizing aura of objectivity and distance.

  48. Stu Clayton says

    Sure. But I suspect indirect speech with K1 has never been an actual feature of your actual German nativespeak. People now say “er sagte dann”, or have recourse to K2 (“wäre, würde, könnte“).

    What the case was before the advent of audio recording techniques, is anyone’s guess.

    people use the indicative and leave the rest to context. And you have previously said you use the K 1 deliberately in your e-mails to create a somewhat ironizing aura of objectivity and distance.

    I use it “deliberately” because it’s there to be used, and suits my purposes to a T. My use of it is not thereby unnatural.

    I didn’t invent German. Awareness is not evidence of artifice.

  49. The point is not whether it’s “unnatural,” whatever that means. The subjunctive is equally “there to be used” in English, and someone might (and some someones doubtless do) use it for similar reasons, but that is irrelevant to the issue of whether it’s obsolete. It is, whether someone likes that fact or not.

  50. Stu Clayton says

    I would agree that feature of English usage is obsolete, but our agreement does not make it so.

    We’re discussing a feature of German usage. My position is that it has not been convincingly argued that this feature is obsolete.

    You’re free to conflate the two features and crow.

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I use it weekly to subdue unprofessional wusses. The current state of this feature of German is such that no one can dismiss it as obsolete, or me as an old fogey for using it.

    It’s an effective means to bring the unprofessionality of said wusses into sharp focus. A lot of people make the mistake of *always* paraphrasing. A professional writer in a polemic environment (dont moi) will know to avoid that, if only because it fosters accusations of misrepresentation.

  51. Stu Clayton says

    I should clarify that the original words I relay in K1 can be read by all participants, and the K1 report verified. The K1 itself is just window dressing. To draw attention to it would be unprofessional.

    Except to professional window dressers, of which there seem to be few or none among inexperienced programmers.

    Were I contending with hatters, I would have to change my tactics.

  52. My position is that it has not been convincingly argued that this feature is obsolete.

    Convincingly to me, but not to you. Such is life.

  53. Stu Clayton says

    I thank my lucky stars that I work on a ranch. There I am paid for success in subduing colts. Here I am only a volunteer sea lamprey in the Great Lakes of polite discourse.

  54. Lars Mathiesen says

    @M, the culprit in question was specifically the “Mexican” voice that I use in the Waze navigation app, and whoever wrote the script for that was clearly not a rural inhabitant of Chiapas state–as I said, there are no vos forms in evidence, just a confusing mixture of tu and usted forms. (I don’t know if they had an actual person speak all the lines or if it’s text-to-speech, even though the repertoire is quite small so actual recordings would be feasible).

    But young people now a days do it in Danish too: We still have a polite 2s form and a familiar one, and I occasionally see things like “If you-V require a receipt, you-T should press X button before paying.”

  55. David Marjanović says

    Oh, I absolutely agree the K1 is not obsolete in journalism and related genres of written German and should therefore be taught to foreign learners (though not terribly soon), as indeed it is. I tried to point out that it’s been gone from spoken German (probably for 500 years or so), and on that we seem to be in violent agreement.

    I occasionally see things like “If you-V require a receipt, you-T should press X button before paying.”

    In German that’s proof of bad machine translation.

  56. John Cowan says

    The subjunctive is equally “there to be used” in English, and someone might (and some someones doubtless do) use it for similar reasons, but that is irrelevant to the issue of whether it’s obsolete. It is, whether someone likes that fact or not.

    That overstates the case. Here’s a Quora post of mine on the subjunctive in English (linking to Quora is an exercise in frustration):

    There are only three surviving uses of the subjunctive in English, and none of them involve unique subjunctive forms such as are found in the Romance languages.

    The mandative subjunctive is used in indirect commands and requests, and consists in using the plain form of the verb in subordinate clauses with third-person singular subjects where the form with -s would otherwise be expected. Examples are “I recommend that John go to community college” and “I demand that Mary leave the room at once”, which contrast with “I hope that John goes to community college” and “I know that Mary leaves the room every five minutes”.

    Usually the meaning of the verb dictates whether a mandative subjunctive will be used or not, but insist is an exception: “I insist that George tells the truth” is a claim about George’s veracity, whereas “I insist that George tell the truth” is an indirect command to George. The mandative subjunctive can always be replaced by should plus the plain form: “I insist that George should tell the truth”. It is still going strong in North American English, but is on the skids in other Englishes, being replaced either by the should-form or by the s-form of the verb [which shows when people have no clue about it].

    […]

    The frozen or formulaic subjunctive is formally the same as the mandative subjunctive: the plain form where the s-form would be expected. It appears in a great many expressions that have come down to us from when the subjunctive was a living mood in English. Examples are “Long live the Queen” (or anybody else by name or title), “Be that as it may”, “Heaven forbid!”, and “God bless you”. All of these have equivalents using may or let, but the subjunctive versions are stuck in the language and aren’t likely to go away.

    Finally, the contrary-to-fact subjunctive is truly, truly marginal. It consists in using were instead of was in an if-clause (or an unless-clause or the like) when the condition mentioned is definitely not going to happen. “If I were going to Philadelphia, I wouldn’t take Kipling’s stories as a guide” is appropriate if I am not going to Philadelphia, whereas “If I was going to Philadelphia, I would be sure to see the Franklin Institute” leaves the question open. This distinction is also rapidly falling apart in English, with “If I was” now much more common than “If I were”.

    The first two constructions are historically K1, the third is historically K2.

  57. David Marjanović says

    I managed to misread George as Google. Would that I go to bed.

  58. David Eddyshaw says

    The Welsh subjunctive seems to be almost exactly in the same state as the English; it was alive and well in the 1588 Bible, and is found likewise in verbatim citations of premodern works, proverbs and suchlike, but otherwise only occurs fossilised in set expressions (some very common, though: Da boch chi “Goodbye” …)

    [I have for years greeted a particular colleague with Henffych well! I have to say that he’s been very forbearing about it, in hindsight.]

  59. There are only three surviving uses of the subjunctive in English

    Depends what you mean by “surviving.” The only one used in actual speech by anyone other than ostentatiously overeducated people like us is the formulaic subjunctive, mostly “Long live the Queen” and “God bless you.” And in the very nature of things the fact that this is historically a subjunctive is as irrelevant as the fact that “Goodbye” is historically “God be with you.”

  60. Stu Clayton says

    A pax on all youse houses !

  61. Stu Clayton says

    If I were going to St Ives,
    And met a merchant in garlic chives,
    I would that he have seven wives,
    And each wife carry seven sacks,
    And each sack hold seven cats,
    And each cat have seven kits,
    And each kit chew upon a chive.
    Kits, cats, sacks and wives:
    How many chives be in St Ives ?

  62. PlasticPaddy says

    @de
    In Irish I would say the subjunctive is alive and well, and frequently to be heard in common expressions, i.e., go raibh maith agat = ” may you have good/good be to you” (not goodbye but thanks).

  63. John Cowan says

    Certainly the more informal the context the less likely the mandative subjunctive is, but studies based on the ICE corpora (which include conversational passages) don’t outright exclude it.

  64. Of course. As I say, ostentatiously overeducated people use it in the same way they use other such fripperies. I do not consider that makes it part of the standard language, any more than Latin tags are part of the standard language. Verbum noscitur a sociis.

  65. Stu Clayton says

    Ostentatiously overeducated people also like to play Li’l Abner to deflect attention from their class. Modest undereducated people, the Li’l Abners themselves, want more attention for their class, but don’t know how to play.

    There are many kinds of standard language. None is more standard than the others. It is instructive to observe the rhetorical moves of those who claim the contrary, the Sunday descriptivists I suppose you could call them.

  66. Rodger C says

    the contrary-to-fact subjunctive is truly, truly marginal

    “If I werrre the king of the world, tell you what I’d do!”

  67. Stu Clayton says

    Advocates of “the” standard language, if there were to be such a thing, would need to be backed up by an army and a navy. Here there is only Akismet nipping at our heels. Edicts waste their sweetness on the desert air.

  68. I would be more careful who I called “ostentatiously overeducated” if I were you.

  69. Stu Clayton says

    I assumed he includes himself under that epithet, for fun. It’s calculated to disarm. For fun. And then the boom is lowered, and the standard hissed. I do it all the time.

  70. Oh, I think Brett knows that, he just wanted to deploy his deadly subjunctive.

  71. Stu Clayton says

    I think that corresponds to German K2 (“wäre“). My St. Ives remake has the German K1 counterparts in English. K1, K2, whatever. I neither know nor care about K-theory (apologies to jack). I do only K-on-the-ground.

  72. John Cowan says

    I assumed he includes himself under that epithet, for fun. It’s calculated to disarm. For fun.

    He only does it to annoy,
    Because he knows it teases.

    CHORUS (in which the Cook and the Baby joined):

    Wow! Wow! Wow!

  73. There are only three surviving uses of the subjunctive in English

    So be it.

    Finally, the contrary-to-fact subjunctive is truly, truly marginal.

    I wouldn’t claim that with such asseveration … if I were you.

  74. John wrote:

    “If I were going to Philadelphia, I wouldn’t take Kipling’s stories as a guide” is appropriate if I am not going to Philadelphia, whereas “If I was going to Philadelphia, I would be sure to see the Franklin Institute” leaves the question open. This distinction is also rapidly falling apart in English, with “If I was” now much more common than “If I were”.

    You’re misinterpreting the data. These days, more people are willing to consider going to Philadelphia.

  75. Lars Mathiesen says

    I have been trying to find out when you use the subjunctive with cuando in Spanish. People and books don’t seem to agree.

  76. Of course, languagehat took my irrealis as I meant it. I should say, however, that, just as in German, I learned that construction in English from exposure, not from any instruction. I was using, “If I were you,” years before anybody tried to explain a subjunctive to me. Regular exposure to a certain register of spoken and written English was undoubtedly required to pick this up; it is easy to envision that other native speakers might not learn it at all. However, I would aver that any linguistic feature that can be picked up simply by interacting with other speakers, as these forms were for me in both English and German, is, practically by definition, not obsolete.

    What is obsolete, I think, based on my experiences as a native learner, is the idea that the use of the plain verb form in irrealis contexts should be considered wrong. My native speech certainly contained, “if I were you,” from an early age, with, “if I was you,” sounding a bit dialectical. However, I think my natural speech included, “if he were,” and, ‘if she was,” in free variation (or at least conditioned by circumstances too complicated to be obviously apparent) before I learned explicitly about the subjunctive.

  77. However, I would aver that any linguistic feature that can be picked up simply by interacting with other speakers, as these forms were for me in both English and German, is, practically by definition, not obsolete.

    Of course. What is obsolete is not the phrase, which is a fixed formula, but the subjunctive itself. Few people who say “if I were you” would naturally say “if I were to do that…,” let alone “if that be true…”

  78. The fact that some people still use what looks like a singular noun with units of measure, e.g. “It’s five mile to the next town” or “The water level is eight foot down,” does not mean that the Old English genitive plural is alive and well in their speech.

  79. David L. Gold says

    @ Lars

    When reference is made to a specific event that is foreseen to occur, the subjunctive is used:

    Cuando VENGAS, avísame antes de salir ‘when you come [say, next Monday], let me know before leaving’ (persons A and B have agreed to meet on such and such a date and A asks B to let A know before B leaves)

    versus

    Cuando VIENES siempre me da alegría verte ‘whenever you come, I’m happy to see you’ (persons A and B have met in the past, A has on such occasions always been happy to see B and A foresees that every time A and B meet in the future, A will be happy to see B). A has in mind no specific future meeting, which in fact might never occur.

    The difference may be expressed in English by when versus whenever.

    I would be curious to see what other people and books have told you.

  80. Exactly right, if you switch them. Cuando vienes ‘when you come’, cuando vengas ‘when you should come’.

    For a Spanish grammar written in English, there’s nothing approaching Butt and Benjamin’s reference grammar for comprehensiveness and clarity.

  81. David Eddyshaw says

    What is obsolete is not the phrase, which is a fixed formula, but the subjunctive itself

    Just like noun-class-based grammatical gender in Kusaal. This is defunct, and no more, and pushing up daisies, and the harsh fact is not disproved by the survival of stock phrases* like yɛlsʋm “blessing” (yɛl “affair, matter” + sʋŋ “good”), pu’apaalib “brides” (pu’ab “wives”, paal “new”) and dabissi’er “someday” (dabisir “day”, si’a “some”) where the adjectives and the dependent pronoun never otherwise occur in those noun classes.

    * Phrases, yes. It’s an Oti-Volta thing …

  82. Few people who say “if I were you” would naturally say “if I were to do that…,” let alone “if that be true…”

    The latter? Fair enough. But “if that be” is a different formation and therefore not directly relevant to the formularity issue for “if I were”.

    The former? Not fair enough. “If I were to do that” may be a rarity in US English, but not in the Rest of the World. “If I was to do that” would raise many Australian eyebrows. Do Americans say it? If not, what alternatives are naturally available to them?

    I’m reminded of discussions of “will” and “shall”. Many say that “shall” with “we” or “I” is obsolete. But consider these more or less rhetorical questions: “Shall we dance/begin/move on/go?” “Shall I put up with such nonsense?” What are people’s real-life sense-preserving alternatives to these? “Should” is no sufficient substitute, for a start. And how about the sceptical retort “We shall see”?

    “Many a formula makes a form in use”, as the saying goes.

  83. “If I were to do that” may be a rarity in US English, but not in the Rest of the World.

    Fair enough. I have the seemingly ineradicable America-centrism of yer average Yank.

  84. “If I were to do that” sounds familiar and not rare or all that elevated, to these L2 Californian ears.

    (More common and familiar, than, say, the “neither… nor…” construction, which I could have used above.)

  85. David Marjanović says

    The fact that some people still use what looks like a singular noun with units of measure, e.g. “It’s five mile to the next town” or “The water level is eight foot down,” does not mean that the Old English genitive plural is alive and well in their speech.

    Oh, is that what’s behind the singular units of measure (including of money) used with numbers in German…

  86. David Eddyshaw says

    is that what’s behind the singular units of measure (including of money) used with numbers

    Not necessarily …
    Kusaal can use singular units of measure with numbers:

    yɔlʋga atan’ “six hundred cedis” (literally “three sack.” *)

    It’s not otherwise grammatical to use singular nouns with numbers greater than “one.”
    Kusaal has probably not had a genitive for some good few millennia, if ever.

    * Makes more sense when you know that the Ghanaian cedi was originally introduced as half of one pound sterling.

  87. So you’re saying the German construction is a remnant of the Kusaal substrate.

  88. “If I were to do that” may be a rarity in US English, but not in the Rest of the World. “If I was to do that” would raise many Australian eyebrows.

    I disagree. I’ve not been to Aus for a couple of years (Covid), but here in NZ, _both_ “If I were to do that” and “If I was to do that” would raise equal numbers of eyebrows. (Except, as already noted, in the fixed phrase “If I were you” — although that would mark your class and age.)

    Prefer “If I did that”. The “If” alone marks irrealis, with long-drawn-out stress _Iffff_ you really want to make a point.

  89. … here in NZ, _both_ “If I were to do that” and “If I was to do that” would raise equal numbers of eyebrows.

    Well, there we differ. As an editor for both Australian and NZ English (and US, UK, etc.), I see and hear the expressions as quite distinct in register and canonic use, with “if I was” better reserved for epistemic or plain alethic cases.

    Prefer “If I did that”. The “If” alone marks irrealis, …

    No. That “if” would need support from context, to be received as irrealis:

    “If I did that, I would then have to apologise.”

    As opposed to:

    “If I did that, I apologise.”

    Anyway, “did” in “if I did that” might be considered subjunctive or indicative. For that verb the relevant forms are not distinctive.

    … with long-drawn-out stress _Iffff_ you really want to make a point.

    Nah. Context would still be needed.

  90. David Eddyshaw says

    So you’re saying the German construction is a remnant of the Kusaal substrate

    Surely the most parsimonious explanation.

  91. ktschwarz says

    I wish people would stop talking about “the” subjunctive. It’s not one thing. It’s an abstraction across multiple classes of constructions — hortatory/formulaic, conditional, irrealis, mandative, some rarer ones in CGEL — which all use verb forms that don’t inflect for person/number, and all refer to things that are unreal or uncertain, but they’re so different in usage that calling them all by the same name just leads to confusion. The irrealis doesn’t even use the same verb form as the others, which is why Pullum and Huddleston rejected the name “subjunctive” for it. (Technical definitions by Zwicky.)

    The mandative, in particular, has to be part of standard American English, considering how frequent it is. It’s common as dirt in the New York Times, of course: 7 unambiguous mandatives in the last 24 hours with “demand* that” alone, not even counting “require* that”, “is important that”, etc. (By unambiguous, I mean the form is different from the indicative, e.g. “demands that he return $52 million”.) Yes, it’s more common in elite or literary writing, but it’s not absent from speech or informal contexts like webcomics comment sections, far from it (classifying anyone who writes “demanding that she kiss her” as ipso facto ostentatiously overeducated would be circular logic). And, yes, in less elite contexts you’ll see a higher proportion of indicative forms — song lyrics: “a girl who demands that her love is amplified” — but they’re still in the minority.

    And the key point is, the mandative isn’t taught! Not generally to native speakers, as far as I can tell; certainly not to me. Those who use it just pick it up from exposure, if they have enough exposure to high-register English. We can tell they weren’t taught because they don’t know that it’s a subjunctive: anytime someone whimpers about the “loss” of the “subjunctive”, they never mention mandatives, only irrealis. I checked with a journalist I know: he uses the mandative routinely, wasn’t taught it, and doesn’t know any name for it.

    Lynne Murphy’s The Prodigal Tongue has some discussion (with footnotes) of how the mandative actually increased in American English during the 20th century, nobody quite knows why.

  92. Stu Clayton says

    how the mandative actually increased in American English during the 20th century, nobody quite knows why.

    I know why ! PC and the rise of the Nanny State-and-Media Complex. No dependency on Dem or GOP.

    You yourself cite one of the big-time mandative factories: the New York Times.

    7 unambiguous mandatives in the last 24 hours with “demand* that” alone, not even counting “require* that”, “is important that”, etc.

    “It’s [high] time that” is another one. And “You need to know why my last pregnancy ruined my life”.

  93. David Eddyshaw says

    I wonder whether the “mandative” is not so much the subjunctive lingering on, zombie-like, but an analogous recreation based on expanding the role of the imperative (with which it is formally identical.)

    (Kusaal uses its imperative mood both in direct commands and in subordinate purpose clauses. The Kusaal substratum strikes again …)

    “If he be a real man …” is much more marked than “I demand that he be …”

  94. I wonder whether the “mandative” is not so much the subjunctive lingering on, zombie-like, but an analogous recreation based on expanding the role of the imperative (with which it is formally identical.
    Hard to say because both are identical in form. To confirm that, the best support would be finding a period where the mandative subjunctive fell out of use and then came back. Another possibility is that the semantic closeness to the imperative kept the use of the subjunctive in such clauses alive.

  95. Stu Clayton says

    The mandataries are all clamoring to flog their opinions in the tight market for attention. They do and say whatever they can get away with. They’re bossy.

    “Mandative” and “subjunctive” are fig leaves. “Bossive” would be more precise.

  96. @David Eddyshaw: I agree that the continuing resilience of the mandative in English is probably bolstered by its similarity to the imperative. As we have previously discussed, sometimes fluent speakers disagree about which a particular usage (about which everyone agrees on the meaning) represents.

  97. ktschwarz says

    The question of survival vs. revival is much discussed in the linguistics literature. A recent survey:

    The subjunctive in Present-Day English: A critical analysis of recent research, leading to a new diachronic investigation of the mandative subjunctive. Tim Waller, PhD thesis (2017)

    “If he be a real man …” is much more marked than “I demand that he be …”

    Of course it is, that’s a conditional, and those really did go out of use in the early 20th century.

  98. David Eddyshaw says

    @ktschwartz:

    Aha! The mandative “subjunctive” is a Horrid Americanism! I knew it! I insist that every true Briton avoid it at all times!

  99. John Cowan says

    Now now, it’s all just a matter of degree.

    =====

    Here’s a brief article by Éva Kovács on the diachrony of the English subjunctive. It has this very interesting example:

    (15) Take the pipe out of his mouth, somebody. (1841 Browning, Pippa Passes Poems)

    Now if somebody is indeed the subject. as E.K. says, then take has to be K1. But if (as I think) it is merely a vocative then take is an imperative. If we replace somebody with John, does that change things? I think not.

    (19a) If it be I will have nothing to do with it, much as I love and reverence
    the man. (1981 Green, Letters 80)

    I don’t have a clue about that one; it strikes me as flatly ungrammatical.

  100. ktschwarz says

    Horrid Americanism

    Yup! You can get in line behind all these other Brits, courtesy of the Waller thesis:

    Few modern English writers would indulge in such a surfeit of subjunctives, though there is a tendency just now, under American influence, to revive this almost obsolete mood, e.g. Mr. P. G. Wodehouse writes, ‘It was imperative that he select some place where he could sit and think quickly,’ …
    —Ernest Weekley, 1928

    American writers use the subjunctive much more than we do. I suppose they are used to it and so it seems natural to them – to us it has always a slightly pedantic look …
    —Somerset Maugham, 1949

    Today I would like to draw attention to something far more serious, the unexpected revival of the Subjunctive Mood, which seems to have begun in this country less than ten years ago and is now spreading so rapidly that, if left unchecked, it will do real damage to the structure of the language, a far more harmful thing than any craze for the latest fashionable word.
    —Catherine M. Nesbitt, 1961

    It is remarkable – for it seems contrary to the whole history of the development of the language – that under the influence of American English the use of the subjunctive is creeping back into British English.
    The Complete Plain Words revised by Bruce Fraser, 1973

    Be careful with any American writings, which often indulge in subjunctive forms, especially if the context seems precise or public in any way. Do not imitate them. … Any sentence with a subjunctive form in it (e.g ‘it was decided that we adjourn’ rather than ‘that we should adjourn’) is suspect. N.B. The above rules are not flippant or satirical.
    —Kingsley Amis, 1997

  101. PlasticPaddy says

    @jc
    the quote is from a text published or written in 1861(not 1981!) and the sentence before has been omitted, i.e fuller version:
    Is it a counter[-]protest? Tell me very frankly if it is–if it is even likely to be taken so. If it [ITALIC]be [a counter-protest] I will have nothing to do with it, much as I love and reverence the man.
    I think the modern way of expressing this would not use emphatic “be” but something like “really is”.

  102. Yup! You can get in line behind all these other Brits

    Goodness! I guess it’s my patriotic duty to embrace the subjunctive; I had no idea…

  103. @jc (19a) If it be I will have nothing to do with it, …

    I don’t find that ungrammatical, but I would say it has a flavour of deliberately archaic. Thanks @Paddy for confirming the italics on ‘be’ is in the original. Kovács also shows italics on the ‘If'(?) — which would be in line with my talk of emphasised ‘If’ above.

    I’d put a comma after the ‘be’.

    I see Kovács also quotes Wodehouse in (18) ” lest he get above himself” [1940]. Now is that American influence? Or is it an archaism in keeping with the general feudalism of the plot? (I’d describe it as same milieu as Wooster & Jeeves or Blandings.)

  104. if left unchecked, it will do real damage to the structure of the language
    I assume Ms. Nesbitt got the award for most unwarranted alarmism that year?

  105. I guess it’s my patriotic duty to embrace the subjunctive

    You must mean “…that I embrace the subjunctive.” Are you some kind of hapless foreign spy?

  106. Take the pipe out of his mouth, somebody.

    I think this is plainly an imperative, though Kovács diagnoses a subjunctive. John Cowan writes, above:

    Now if somebody is indeed the subject. as E.K. says, then take has to be K1 [K1 = Konjunktiv 1; these appear to be “Präsensformen des Konjunktivs”].

    Hmm. Huddleston (Chapter 3, “The Verb”, CGEL) is vague about subjects of imperatives. Here is one mention:

    “The subject [of an imperative] can even occur in post-auxiliary position (Don’t you talk to me like that!), a position which is otherwise quite impossible in clauses with secondary verbs. It is true that they usually have no subject, but the understood subject is recovered from the nature of the construction itself (as you) rather than from an element in the larger construction, as it most often is with non-finites.”

    Far better for Huddleston to have written “the subject is usually understood rather than expressed, but it is always you“; or alternatively, depending on what he intends, “the subject is usually understood rather than expressed, but in that case it is always you“.

    Later in the chapter he analyses Don’t anybody eat it! as “[imperative: no agreement – plain form]”, leaving the reader to wonder whether anybody is strictly the subject. He introduces the example with this:

    “The plain form don’t differs from the present tense in that it doesn’t agree with the subject, and hence can combine with a 3rd person singular, such as anybody.”

    What analysis would be appropriate for that “combining”? If it must be as the subject, let that be stated clearly. Still later in the chapter:

    “imperatives with a 3rd person singular subject do not differ in verb-form from those with a 2nd person subject (cf. Somebody open the door, please).”

    So this is more explicit: the subject need not be a 2nd person pronoun. How does that comport with the earlier deliverances?

    A concinnous alternative is to say of this somebody (along with anybody earlier, and someone, anyone, any of you, some of you, one or two of you, etc.) that it is normally 3rd person but as the subject of an imperative it is 2nd person. Why not?

    Now, to establish a separate alternative, compare We are none of us perfect (and We were each of us ready to rise to the occasion). None of us is 3rd person, right? (As in None of us is perfect, just like None of them is perfect; the common None of [us,them] are perfect is a distraction, here.) We can read none of us not as in apposition to we in We are none of us perfect, but as a free gloss on we, which alone is the subject. This suggests a similar treatment for Huddleston’s quirky imperatives, and for the Kovács example Take the pipe out of his mouth, somebody. Here somebody is not a subject, but supplies further information about the you that is addressed: a certain generality, in this case.

    Returning to John Cowan’s remarks:

    But if (as I think) it is merely a vocative then take is an imperative. If we replace somebody with John, does that change things? I think not.

    I too think not. But I prefer not to take anything other than you (normally merely implicit) as the subject of any imperative, and I find no need to speak of vocatives here.

  107. PlasticPaddy says

    @Noetica
    You can save you as the subject by positing “don’t (you), anybody, take that” where anybody is in apposition (or has been fronted from “don’t (you) take it, anybody”)

  108. As I said before (link supra):

    English does not appear to distinguish cleanly between direct address and the optional subject in imperatives.

    There seem to be many concrete examples that different speakers will interpret differently, as one construction or the other, perhaps even both or neither. Of course, this is exactly what one should expect when neither the form, nor the pragmatic meaning, depend on which grammatical interpretation we give an instance. Learning the grammar of a natively acquired language is accomplished by absorption and generalization of examples, and there is no reason to expect* intersubjective agreement on the precise rules governing such invisible distinctions.

    * Pace the Chomskyite belief that the human brain comes pre-wired for applying a very specific set of grammatical rules.

  109. John Cowan says

    I assume Ms. Nesbitt got the award for most unwarranted alarmism that year?

    Plainly all of Nesbitt, Weekley, Maugham, and Fraser are suffering from the Recency Illusion: the mandative subjunctive has been “creeping back” into BrE for almost a century now.

  110. David Eddyshaw says

    the mandative subjunctive has been “creeping back” into BrE for almost a century now

    The situation is indeed grave. Yet we shall still eradicate this adventitious intrusion! Say not the struggle naught availeth. Westward, look, the land is bright!

  111. Westward, look, the land is bright!

    Actually, at the moment it’s 16°C and cloudy in Cardiff. (That is what you meant by “Westward,” isn’t it?)

  112. David Eddyshaw says

    “Bright” for Wales.
    Moreover, Cardiff is to the far east – practically in England.

  113. Koch has been a leading proponent of the Celtic from the West hypothesis, the idea that the Celtic languages originated as a branch of the Indo-European languages not in Eastern Europe, from where they radiated westward, but rather that they arose in Iberia (modern Spain and Portugal) among the Celtiberians and neighboring peoples as a combination of Proto-Indo-European and native non-Indo-European Paleohispanic languages (related to Basque), with some Phoenician influence. …

    Koch holds a chair at UofW Caerdydd. I expect @Dawydd knows him.

    related to Basque check. Phoenicians check. So Koch is a kook?

    The RAW project undertakes an extensive programme of scanning and documentation to enable detailed comparison of the strikingly similar iconography of Scandinavian rock art and Iberian ‘warrior’ stelae. A linguistic aspect of this cross-disciplinary project is to re-examine the inherited word stock shared by Celtic and Germanic, but absent from the other Indo-European languages, … [2019 paper]

    Is it worth me reading this stuff?

  114. @AntC

    a leading proponent of the Celtic from the West hypothesis
    i.e. the only proponent?
    He wrote a book about it: Celto-Germanic: Later Prehistory and Post-Proto-Indo-European vocabulary in the North and West. At a very first glance, the idea that comparing rock art will help establish a linguistic link is alarming.

    This book is a study of the inherited vocabulary shared uniquely by Celtic, Germanic, and the other Indo-European languages of North and West Europe. The focus is on contact and common developments in the prehistoric period. Words showing the earmarks of loanwords datable to Roman times or the Middle Ages are excluded. Most of the remaining collection predates Grimm’s Law. This and further linguistic criteria are consistent with contexts before ~500 BC. The evidence and analysis here lead to the following explanatory hypothesis. Metal-poor Scandinavia’s sustained demand for resources led to a prolonged symbiosis with the Atlantic façade and Central Europe during the Bronze Age. Complementary advantages of the Pre Germanic North included Baltic amber and societies favourably situated and organized to build seagoing vessels and recruit crews for long-distance maritime expeditions. An integral dimension of this long-term network was intense contact between the Indo-European dialects that became Celtic and those that became Germanic. The Celto-Germanic vocabulary—like the motifs shared by Iberian stelae and Scandinavian rock art—illuminates this interaction, opening a window onto the European Bronze Age. Much of the word stock can be analyzed as shared across still mutually intelligible dialects rather than borrowed between separate languages. In this respect, what is revealed resembles more the last gasp of Proto-Indo-European than a forerunner of the Celtic– Germanic confrontations of the post-Roman Migration Period and Viking Age.

    Dawydd
    > Dafydd

  115. Dawydd, and @Y you triggered the digression.

    Perhaps Koch has an example: Basque zilharr

    the only proponent?

    This RAW project is at U of Gothenburg, with project partners. Nice webpage images, if nothing else.

    I have in front of me some table mats with rock art images (reindeer and warriors) from outside Oslo. Those reindeer have a distinctive Iberian look about them. Picasso primitivism, I’d say. (wp says “Proto-Cubism”; typo for Proto-Celt-Iberian?)

  116. David Eddyshaw says

    AntC is simply being disagreeable, Y.

  117. Back to the subjunctive, it bears to mention the concept of insubordiantion, named and expounded on by Evans (e.g. here and elsewhere). The idea is that clauses marked as subordinate (in various language-dependent ways, including the subjunctive marking of a verb) are sometimes used as main clauses. It’s a very useful way to think about this very widespread set of phenomena.

  118. David Eddyshaw says

    Kusaal (which I introduce once again, with the stark inevitability of Greek tragedy) actually marks clauses as not-subordinate, rather than the other way round (mainly by a tone overlay on the verb, though with segmental markers too in some contexts.) In Kusaal, this is the way that imperative mood in direct commands differs from imperative mood in subordinate clauses expressing purpose (it’s quite neat, really.)

    The school of thought that regards German and Dutch as SOV languages similarly explains the awkward fact that main clauses are, in fact, SVO (mostly) as being due to their being specifically marked by this as not-subordinate.

    Evans originally came up with “insubordination” as a way of explaining some of the bizarre features of Kayardild, a language which probably deserves some sort of prize for all-around morphosyntactic strangeness.

  119. Thanks @Paddy for confirming the italics on ‘be’ is in the original. Kovács also shows italics on the ‘If'(?) — which would be in line with my talk of emphasised ‘If’ above.

    No, AntC. The italics are not in the literary originals that Kovács quotes, but supplied by her. Kovács simply italicises the words of interest to her, in most of her examples. So your idea about emphasised “if” gains no support from her. I note that you have ignored my analysis of that comment. You wrote:

    Prefer “If I did that”. The “If” alone marks irrealis, with long-drawn-out stress _Iffff_ you really want to make a point.

    The first part of my reply (let’s put it all here for convenience):

    No. That “if” would need support from context, to be received as irrealis:

    “If I did that, I would then have to apologise.”

    As opposed to:

    “If I did that, I apologise.”

    Then, concerning your appeal to emphasis:

    Nah. Context would still be needed.

    That need for context can be can tested by emphasing the if in my two opposed example sentences. It has no tendency to shift the meaning or proper analysis of either; so it could hardly do much in the non-textualised base of each: If I did that. Yours is the onus of proof, for your positive assertion.

  120. PlasticPaddy says

    @noetica
    As you say, the longer version I quoted from had both “if” and “be” in italics, probably not supplied by the writer. The original was a letter. Assuming this is a sentence meant also to be spoken, how would a mid 19th C speaker handle the short clause “if it be” followed immediately by “I will”? I first thought a “so” or “thus” was missing after the word “be”. Anyway I was replying to jc about the “weirdness” of this sentence, which is heightened by quoting it without the preceding two sentences, but I am sorry about the confusion. Regarding the need for context
    IF i did that-could be either
    If I did that-could be either
    If i DID that–a hair likelier to be indicative (subj would usually be “WERE to do/have done”)
    If i did THAT–somewhat likelier to be subjunctive (on the basis that “were to have done THAT” leaves too much of a hiatus before THAT) 😊

  121. @Noetica, I feel no onus. A pox on your browbeating. I already said “I disagree.” I still disagree. I was just going to let it go as not worth pursuing. I suspect our difference of views is down to register:

    As an editor for both Australian and NZ English (and US, UK, etc.), …

    I was talking about ‘on the street’ or more likely ‘in the coffee shop’ (in NZ) in my case. And I’ve listened in on a lot of irrealis conversations lately: _if_ our government had been as incompetent as Aus/UK/US with the Covid …

    I wasn’t talking about what needs an editor. (And if you’re editting across all those varieties of English, I suspect you’re ‘averaging up’ to what’s expected in the higher of those registers.) Others on the thread have already emphasised this is a more U.S. tendency. To the extent there’s a difference between Aus and NZ registers (esp of the more highbrow kind), Aus tends more towards U.S. style.

    I’ve just skimmed our local newspaper — especially the opinion and letters columns. Plenty of irrealis of the doom-and-gloom variety. No subjunctives.

  122. ktschwarz says

    AntC: this is a more U.S. tendency

    There is no “this”! We’ve been saying that the mandative subjunctive has been more common in AmE than BrE for a lot of the 20th century — I don’t know if there’s good data on where it stands right now — but that doesn’t say anything about the counterfactual, which is a different verb form, traditionally “past subjunctive” vs. “present subjunctive”, though as Pullum will tell you, it has nothing to do with the past. Pullum has raged against confusion between the two many times; he’s also raged against the name “past subjunctive”, but I don’t like his replacement “irrealis” much better, since that’s used in linguistics as an umbrella term for *all* kinds of talking about unreality, including wishes, commands, potentials, on and on, not just the counterfactuals that he specializes it to.

  123. Stu Clayton says

    I pick up a strong elephant-and-blind-men vibe in this discussion. We are witnessing cognitive evolution at work, driven as usual by constructivism. I’m betting that at the end it will be resolved that mandative and subjunctive are the elephant’s ears, and irrealis is its tail.

    The elephant, the elephant
    Is large and grey and long in front.
    [From “What an old man sees in the mirror”, by Rafael]

  124. Stu Clayton says

    See the essay by Trond: “For Whom The Balls Tell”

  125. You linked to the post; I presume you mean this brief(s) comment. His only other comments are here and here. I must say, I’m impressed with your memory for scurrilous exchanges from 2009.

  126. David Eddyshaw says

    Pullum has raged against confusion between the two many times

    CGEL calls the counterfactual/irrealis use of the preterite form “modal remoteness” (pp 148ff.)

    While I presume that the English use of this form originated in the Old English preterite subjunctive, it’s interesting that cross-linguistically this kind of development is quite common with “discontinuous” (i.e. not current-relevance) pasts, even in languages which never had a subjunctive to begin with:

    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/272264027_Towards_a_typology_of_discontinuous_past_marking

    It’s not only the future which can be unreal …

  127. Stu Clayton says

    You linked to the post; I presume you mean this brief(s) comment

    Brief, but speaking volumes. I have bitterly complained over the years that his English puns are always a cut above mine – but to no avail.

    Yes, I forgot that individual comments can be linked on WordPress.

    The background was that Jeremy had showed me some of his children’s stories, which I thought were very good. We talked about F.K. Waechter and a book of animal rhymes by him, Die Kronenklauer. The reason I remember it all was that I made up the one about “The elephant, the elephant”.

  128. John Emerson says

    The elephant, the elephant
    Is large and grey and long in front.
    [From “What an old man sees in the mirror”, by Rafael]

    The brontosaurus is quite different:

    https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2oh8ia

  129. John Emerson says
  130. John Emerson says

    While my favorite poem by Gautier is about none of the above.

    The big-bellied hippopotamus
    Lives in the jungles of Java,
    Where monsters growl from every lair,
    More than you’d ever dream of.

    The boa uncoils and hisses,
    the tiger unleashes his roar.
    The buffalo bellows with rage —
    but the peaceful hippo just feeds and sleeps.

    The hippo fears neither sword nor spear,
    He just stands and looks right at you.
    He laughs and laughs
    at the sepoys’ bullets bouncing off his hide

    I am like the hippopotamus:
    Swathed in my conviction,
    protected by strong and inviolable armor,
    fearlessly I cross the desert.

    Théophile Gautier

  131. Stu Clayton says

    Uh-oh. Bad move there at the end. Fish out of water.

    Good poem about a bad move.

  132. A rhyming translation by Timothy Adès (here, with the original):

    The sturdy Hippopotamus
    inhabits jungles Javanese
    where snarl in caverns bottomless
    undreamable monstrosities.

    The boa hisses and unscrews;
    snuffles convulse the buffalo;
    the tiger caterwauls. He chews,
    or slumbers, tranquillissimo.

    He fears not kris nor assegai,
    he looks at man and stands his ground;
    he laughs, when shots from the sepoy
    spatter his leather and rebound.

    The hippopotamus and I
    have an impenetrable hide.
    In armour-plate of certainty
    I roam the plains with dauntless stride.

  133. ktschwarz says

    As best as I understand it so far: “Irrealis” is indeed the linguists-except-Pullum’s name for the elephant as a whole, but only linguists try to see it as a whole, while dividing it from the other elephant of “realis”. Grammarians of a single language don’t need to climb to that level of abstraction, they only need to describe the elephant’s ears, tusks, toenails, … (conditional, jussive, potential, …), whatever that language grammaticalizes — which doesn’t necessarily cover everything that’s unreal or doubtful; some of it may be expressed just with vocabulary or pragmatics, like how in English if you doubt or disbelieve or suspect that something is so, the that-clause is still in the indicative, same as if you were sure of it.

  134. ktschwarz says

    Not impressed with the Kovács article. It’s poorly written overall, and besides the error noted by PP and the confusion over the imperative sentence, it has a silly citation saying “Jack English (2009) has pointed out … Consider English’s diagram … Another interesting finding of English”, which is actually a reference to a blog post by Brett Reynolds, whose blog is titled “English, Jack”. (Comments here by “Brett” back in the 00s are probably him, not the present-day Brett.) Also, she cites “Denison 1998” several times but forgot to put it in the references list. (It must be his chapter in The Cambridge history of the English language, vol. 4.)

    Kovács also thinks the blog “examined the occurrence of the subjunctive in COCA”, which is way overstating it. What Reynolds actually did was a search on “that PRONOUN be”, which is a pretty good sampler for mandative subjunctives: it’ll pick up a sprinkling of quotations from archaic texts and other false positives, but only a sprinkling (I checked); almost all of the hits are indeed mandatives. Of course, you have to assume that the ratio of pronouns to nouns, and “be” to all verbs, isn’t changing with time. That part seems plausible, but there’s no reason to assume that the mandative travels in lockstep with all other subjunctives! After all, in ca. 1900 AmE, the conditional subjunctive was declining while the mandative was growing.

    COCA now goes up to 2019, and the decline in “that PRONOUN be” from 1990-94 to 2005-09 did continue in 2010-14 (falling to less than half of what it was in 1990-94), but then halted, and even turned around, in 2015-19. No idea what that means. Running the same search in the Corpus of Historical American English shows that “that PRONOUN be” almost doubled from the 1870s to the 1900s, stayed roughly constant up to the 1960s, then started a steady decline, falling by almost two-thirds by the 2000s. I’d guess that decline comes from increasing informality in writing.

    Reynolds also noticed that the SPOKEN section of the corpus had the highest rate of “that PRONOUN be”, and wondered why. Clicking through to the list of entries (don’t know if that was possible in 2009) makes it clear that the corpus is heavy on news and political talk shows like PBS NewsHour, Meet the Press, Face the Nation, etc., where you’ll find lots of highly educated elite speakers trying to sound formal and smart.

    Of course, what answer you get depends on the corpus and how you search, and there’s a lot of publications arguing back and forth about which corpora are sufficiently representative.

  135. John Cowan says

    I pick up a strong elephant-and-blind-men vibe in this discussion.

    To me, it is unsurprising that the six blind men are not aware of the total shape of the elephant. What always startles me is the non-blind narrator, who claims to know what the elephant really does look like in its role of Elefant-an-sich. As someone for whom seeing is definitely not believing, I have my doubts.

    Grammarians of a single language don’t need to climb to that level of abstraction

    Well, it depends. I recall that there is at least one language, perhaps spoken in SE Asia, in which “irrealis” and “realis” are the only TAM markers on its verbs. In particular, the future is always irrealis, the past can be either, and the present is realis if you are referring to what you directly observe, irrealis if you are not. (Are you God, to claim to know what is going on far away from you or has not yet happened?)

  136. David Eddyshaw says

    the future is always irrealis, the past can be either

    In fact, In Kusaal the future is expressed with the irrealis mood.

    The justification for calling it a mood, not a tense, is that its markers may co-occur with tense markers, which are otherwise all mutually exclusive (not surprisingly), and that it has, like the indicative and the imperative, its own distinctive negative particle; both the positive and negative irrealis markers occur in that same negative-particle slot before the verb and after tense markers.

    Past-tense irrealis can be either contrary-to-fact or future-in-the-past:

    O na nyɛ na’ab la.
    He IRREALIS see chief the
    “He will see the chief.”

    O da na nyɛ na’ab la
    He PAST IRREALIS see chief the
    “He had been going to see the chief.” (but never actually did)
    or “He was going to see the chief” (it was his destiny.)

    Future tense markers exist, but need not be used if the mood is irrealis. If they are used, the mood has to be irrealis or imperative – they are not compatible with the indicative.

    Kusaal is, of course, far from unique in expressing future events and states with a mood; and even English has no future tense devoid of modal nuances.

  137. There’s a very nice article by Ferdinand de Haan, Irrealis: fact or fiction? (paywalled here.)

    Languages that mostly mark only realis/irrealis on verbs are all over the place. Here is a nice survey of “reality status–prominent” languages in Southern Arawakan, with some languages having a nominal irrealis marker, too.

  138. @John Cowan: Saxe, at least, made no claim of omniscience about the true nature of the elephant. As you know, his (oft-omitted) envoy is about humans’ inability to comprehend things much bigger than ourselves:

    MORAL

    So, oft in theologic wars
    The disputants, I ween,
    Rail on in utter ignorance
    Of what each other mean,
    And prate about an Elephant
    Not one of them has seen!

  139. You can’t get more irrealis than the Eddington concession. Here Dawkins spends ten minutes (in impeccable posh Brit English) maneuvering amongst remote imputations. Plenty of if’s, could’s and would’s. No deploying funky parts of the verb ‘to be’ as auxiliary.

    Here plenty more irrealis: Hitchens on ‘wishful thinking’. Again no funky ‘to be’. There are a couple of ‘let … be …’s around 3:00. By the time of that lecture he’d declared himself Anglo-American, and had been writing for U.S. publications over twenty years.

    If for @Noetica as an editor, those are ‘house rules’; let it be so. What I reacted against was what seemed like a typical peever/pedant’s (fake) justification that other forms are somehow less clear or less ‘logical’. Neither Dawkins nor Hitchens are unclear. Sprinkling ‘were’s or ‘was’s after the ‘if’s would do nothing for the clarity; but would only mark the language as pompous.

  140. AntC:

    See this Google search on (“if I were to” OR “if I was to”) at the NZ Herald site, where both forms occur in abundance: just as they do at The Age site, for an Australian comparison.

    Hat might like to scan through results for the NY Times, which show that if I were to is very much alive there also.

    AntC, I put it to you that your impressions are hasty and unevidenced. Note, by the way, that in all three searches the results include cases of “if I was to” that are plainly indicative, such as this from The Age:

    “14 Mar 2017 — Recently I needed to return to the supermarket twice, yes twice, for crucial items if I was to keep making lasagne for dinner.”

    So “if I were to” is relatively more represented than it may seem at first, as a non-indicative (or irrealis, if we want to call it that).

    For the rest, AntC, I say nothing right now except that your statements concerning my own approach and general orientation are also hasty and ill-conceived. But over here it’s election night, and I’m hoping to be able to witness the demise of our conservatives, live on TV. More tomorrow perhaps. But perhaps not, since you would probably once again ignore the analysis I am thinking to present, as you did (utterly, twice) concerning what I said about the necessary context for “if I did that”.

  141. Trond Engen says

    For whom the balls tell

    It’s bitter-sweet to discover that my best puns are far behind me A mirror effect of the mirror effect.

    scurrilous exchange

    I’ll admit the hit was below the belt. Far below.

    But I did remember the discussion of double-entendres and puns, I think I’ve tired to retrieve it here on some occasion.

  142. Hat might like to scan through results for the NY Times, which show that if I were to is very much alive there also.

    Huh? I never said nobody used it, I said it was used by the stratum of society with more than a basic education, and the NYT and its readership are practically a definition of that stratum. You can make your points without twisting the arguments of those who disagree.

  143. Huh? I never said you did say nobody used it, Hat. You remarked on US usage, and I just thought you might appreciate a report that compares like sources in Australia, NZ, and US. It is indeed a matter of register, not of region. But AntC, wielding a far broader brush than either of us, appears to think that only “If I did that” avoids arrant hoitytoitytude. Let’s none of us twist what our interlocutors say, hm?

    (Meanwhile, our Oz conservatives have lost. Touch wood.)

  144. Ah, thanks for the explanation, and sorry for the overreaction!

  145. Rodger C says

    I’m now wondering if Eliot plagiarized (or was “inspired” by) Gautier:

    The broad-backed hippopotamus
    Rests on his belly in the mud;
    Although he seems so firm to us
    He is merely flesh and blood.

    Flesh-and-blood is weak and frail,
    Susceptible to nervous shock;
    While the True Church can never fail
    For it is based upon a rock.

    The hippo’s feeble steps may err
    In compassing material ends,
    While the True Church need never stir
    To gather in its dividends.

    The ‘potamus can never reach
    The mango on the mango-tree;
    But fruits of pomegranate and peach
    Refresh the Church from over sea.

    At mating time the hippo’s voice
    Betrays inflexions hoarse and odd,
    But every week we hear rejoice
    The Church, at being one with God.

    The hippopotamus’s day
    Is passed in sleep; at night he hunts;
    God works in a mysterious way–
    The Church can sleep and feed at once.

    I saw the ‘potamus take wing
    Ascending from the damp savannas,
    And quiring angels round him sing
    The praise of God, in loud hosannas.

    Blood of the Lamb shall wash him clean
    And him shall heavenly arms enfold,
    Among the saints he shall be seen
    Performing on a harp of gold.

    He shall be washed as white as snow,
    By all the martyr’d virgins kist,
    While the True Church remains below
    Wrapt in the old miasmal mist.

  146. Stu Clayton says

    It was, according to Representative Poetry at the University Of Toronto:

    # Eliot’s amusing homage to Théophile Gautier’s “L’Hippopotame” #

    Gautier seems to have been quite the honcho de lettres in his day. I knew only his name, now I know one or two things more.

  147. What was Eliot’s attitude toward Christianity, other than “not particularly adoring”?

  148. David Eddyshaw says

    Well, he didn’t convert to the Church of England until eight years later. Subsequently he became quite suffocatingly pious.*

    * OK, deeply unfair. But there always seems to me to be something rather strained and artificial about Eliot’s Christianity, or – to be more accurate – about how he expresses it in his verse (I’ve no reason to doubt his personal commitment.) Give me Auden instead, any day …

  149. There’s something rather strained about pretty much everything having to do with Eliot, poor chap.

  150. PlasticPaddy says

    Wikipedia is rather unclear and gives the impression that Eliot’s conversion from Unitarianism to Anglicanism was more due to the venerability and “Englishness’ of the latter. He was cremated, which I think was an older and less controversial thing for Unitarians than for Anglicans…

  151. David Eddyshaw says

    There’s something rather strained about pretty much everything having to do with Eliot, poor chap

    Good point.

  152. David Marjanović says

    Koch has been a leading proponent of the Celtic from the West hypothesis, the idea that the Celtic languages originated as a branch of the Indo-European languages not in Eastern Europe, from where they radiated westward, but rather that they arose in Iberia (modern Spain and Portugal) among the Celtiberians and neighboring peoples as a combination of Proto-Indo-European and native non-Indo-European Paleohispanic languages (related to Basque), with some Phoenician influence.

    I’ve never come across the idea that Celtic originated in eastern Europe. The most precise homeland I’ve seen suggested is Bavaria.

    It’s also long been clear that Germanic took up a lot of Celtic loanwords before it implemented Grimm (not sure about Verner off the top of my head), which has long been taken to mean that Celtic had a long presence in central Germany; but this argument by itself can’t exclude Koch’s intriguing hypothesis of maritime contact.

    On the other side, though, the few things Celtic and Basque have in common (lack of *p, about one identifiable word…) are unremarkable from the centuries of contact they must have had under any hypothesis of where Proto-Celtic was spoken.

    While I presume that the English use of this form originated in the Old English preterite subjunctive, it’s interesting that cross-linguistically this kind of development is quite common with “discontinuous” (i.e. not current-relevance) pasts, even in languages which never had a subjunctive to begin with:

    Without trying to look up how OE did it, I’m sure it originated from the subjunctive, because the moribund distinction of was from 1/3sg were precisely mirrors the German distinction of indicative war (indeed was up to the 17th century) and K2 wäre which continues through the other persons and through all other irregular verbs.

    But, to my great surprise, French uses the indicative past tense for that purpose (si j’avais) despite having subjunctives aplenty.

    In fact, In Kusaal the future is expressed with the irrealis mood.

    The justification for calling it a mood, not a tense, is that its markers may co-occur with tense markers […]

    Kusaal is, of course, far from unique in expressing future events and states with a mood; and even English has no future tense devoid of modal nuances.

    That holds even more so for German. When actually used as a future, the construction with werden (In 20 Jahren werden wir noch immer keine fliegenden Autos haben. “We still won’t have flying cars in 20 years.”) often has slight overtones of prognosis, but, at least regionally, it can also be used in the present (Das wird schon stimmen. “That’s probably right.”) and indeed the past (Das werde ich gestern gemacht haben. “I can’t actually remember, but I probably did that yesterday.”).

    Here plenty more irrealis: Hitchens on ‘wishful thinking’. Again no funky ‘to be’. There are a couple of ‘let … be …’s around 3:00. By the time of that lecture he’d declared himself Anglo-American, and had been writing for U.S. publications over twenty years.

    In the let X be a spherical cow construction of maths examples, be is clearly infinitive. The potentially interesting question is if let is imperative, subjunctive, or the latter reinterpreted as the former. To get be to be subjunctive, you’d need X be a spherical cow without let, and that, I think, would sound over-the-top archaic (but merely literary in German).

  153. David Eddyshaw says

    lack of *p

    The more so as lacking /p/ is quite common cross-linguistically (though admittedly the four other languages that immediately come to my mind, Classical Arabic, Yoruba, Hausa and Nawdm, may not be exactly a representative random sample.)

    I would be prepared to bet, though, that if a language has only two out of /p t k/, /p/ is almost always the missing one. Which is actually quite interesting when you start thinking about “mama” and “papa” words, and why they’re so common.

  154. David Eddyshaw says

    Mandinka, too, come to think of it.

  155. David Marjanović says

    It’s a Well-Known Fact that, of /p t k b d g/, /p/ and /g/ are the most common to be missing. This is often areal; there’s another /p/-less area in southern Siberia, including Proto-Turkic, pre-Hungarian and various Samoyedic phenomena.

    At the same time, though, I strongly suspect loss of /p/ requires aspiration. That’s exactly what’s missing in the Polynesian /p k ʔ/ languages.

  156. David Eddyshaw says

    Yes, Polynesian is a big counterexample to my overhasty generalisation (which is probably valid as a statistical thing, FWIW: I’d probably still make money on the bet.)

    Interesting thought about aspiration. It works for Yoruba, Hausa and Nawdm. It shouldn’t work for Proto-Celtic – except, I suppose there was no PIE voiceless aspirate series to constrast with, so I suppose there is no reason why /p t k/ might not have been realised as aspirated by that point. The reflexes of /t k/ are certainly aspirated in modern Welsh, and AFAIK in modern Goidelic. (Not that that means much, when you think about how the modern West Germanic languages vary.)

  157. You have just PROVEN aspiration in Proto-Celtic! Write a paper!

  158. I strongly suspect loss of /p/ requires aspiration. That’s exactly what’s missing in the Polynesian /p k ʔ/ languages.

    Wait, what?

    What’s the connection between manner (aspiration) and place (bilabial)? And what does /p/ have to do with the t>k>ʔ>zero chain shift? Hawaiian often aspirates its /p/ and /k/, as do other languages to various extents, both with and without /t/.

  159. David Marjanović says

    You have just PROVEN aspiration in Proto-Celtic! Write a paper!

    It’s been claimed before, but I don’t know the literature on this.

    It would also create a macro-areal pattern with both Proto-Basque and pre-Grimm Germanic, both of which are thought to have had mostly aspirated /t k/ (and /p/ in Germanic) and mostly fricative~approximant /β ð ɣ/ (with voiced plosive allophones), though Germanic also had a third series of unaspirated plosives that were becoming devoiced.

    Grimm’s law then eliminated the evidence in Germanic: all aspirates became fricatives. Evidence that this also happened as the first step to *p in Celtic is the fact that *pt became /xt/, along with the fact that various strange things happened to *sp.

    Later, northern Germanic went through a second round of aspiration; the Migration Period carried such lects south of the previously Germanic-speaking area, distributing aspiration north and south of an aspiration-free belt that extends from Dutch through Cologne and Berlin to the Slavic border even today; the southern aspirating area then implemented the High German Consonant Shift, with various exceptions at its northwestern fringe.

    I don’t know what to make of the lack of aspiration in parts of northern England, though.

    What’s the connection between manner (aspiration) and place (bilabial)?

    Aspiration is easier to maintain at some places of articulation than others. In Vietnamese, ph is now [f] everywhere, kh is [x] in at least half the country, and th isn’t going anywhere.

    Hawaiian often aspirates its /p/ and /k/, as do other languages to various extents, both with and without /t/.

    Are you sure that’s not an English accent?

  160. David Eddyshaw says

    Elbert and Kawena Pukui’s Hawaiian Grammar says that Hawaiian /p k/ are “pronounced about as in English but with less aspiration”, whatever that means exactly. The second author was an L1 speaker, FWIW.

    Paulus Kieviet’s grammar of Rapanui says explicitly that /p t k/ are unaspirated in that language.

    Churchward’s (remarkable) Tongan Grammar describes /p t k/ as being “somewhat suggestive, at times” of /b d g/, which sounds like he means to convey that they are unaspirated.

  161. You’re right, I relied on Jones’ Illustrations of the IPA paper, which relies on the speech of an L1 speaker who was raised by L2 speakers. However, Helene Newbrand’s 1951 thesis, still the most detailed published description of Hawaiian phonetics, says that /p/ and /k/ are “sometimes” “more aspirated than in English”, particularly word-initially and in stressed syllables. Her informants were all fluent L1 speakers. Unfortunately it’s not clear how often stops were aspirated (she made recordings but they are presumed lost, AFAIK; there are other old recordings of the language, though.)

  162. David Eddyshaw says

    Mosel and Hovdhaugen’s Samoan Reference Grammar says that /p t k/ are “sometimes weakly aspirated”, which doesn’t seem to help a lot. I include the datum notwithstanding, For Science!

  163. @David Eddyshaw: I don’t know about /k/, but for a very weakly aspirated Hawaiian /p/, listen to the way Don Ho says “happy” (especially the first time) in this live rendition of his signature song, “Tiny Bubbles.” For the record version of the song, he downplayed his native accent a lot. That live singalong rendition seems seemed to be the closest to one using his natural Hawaiian accent that I could find on YouTube—although in different parts of the performance, he jumps around from one accent to another quite a bit.

  164. Interestingly, the last two comments are both timestamped “5:41 pm.” The blog software knows which came first (David Eddyshaw’s), but the Recent Comments widget evidently does not and lists mine as coming before David’s.

  165. (I got a comment awaiting moderation. Probably mistyped my email.)

  166. Aspiration is easier to maintain at some places of articulation than others. …

    Hawaiian often aspirates its /p/ and /k/, as do other languages to various extents, both with and without /t/.

    Are you sure that’s not an English accent?

    NZ Maori at first European contact seemed to have had a voiceless bilabial fricative (although there was regional variation), the European linguists (mostly German-influenced) wrote as wh-.

    ‘whanga’ bay/cove vs ‘waka’ canoe

    Under English influence, ‘wh-‘ is now pronounced [f].

    (The less linguistically aware settlers weren’t so careful in their transcriptions. There’s been a big debate whether the town spelled ‘Wanganui’ on the River spelled ‘Whanganui’ (big bay) should get its ‘h’ restored. That wiki tells me the local dialect pronounced (what’s written as) ‘wh-‘ as “[ˀw], a voiced labial–velar approximant combined with a glottal stop”.)

  167. David Eddyshaw says

    Unfortunately, Creissels’ excellent grammar of Mandinka says

    Il y a aussi une variation dialectale concernant les occlusives non voisées. Comme le signalait Rowlands […], elles sont réalisées avec une légère aspiration dans certains parlers, alors que par exemple aucune aspiration n’est perceptible chez nous consultants de Sédhiou.

    which doesn’t look too helpful for the hypothesis either, though it’s ambiguous enough to be explained away if need be …

  168. David Eddyshaw says

    The various Songhay languages I have information on seem to possess /p/, but only in loans and suchlike deniable words (not too surprisingly, given that Songhay is all sprachbundy with Mande.) Unfortunately I can’t tell from Jeffrey Heath’s grammars whether the voiceless stops are aspirated or not. Lameen will, of course, know

  169. David Eddyshaw says

    Swahili has a perfectly good /f/, and in native Bantu vocabulary, at that, but also possesses* an actual /p/ ~ /pʰ/ contrast, though you wouldn’t know it from the orthography: paa [paa] “roof”, paa [pʰaa] “gazelle.”

    * Or possessed. It’s on the way out, apparently, presumably helped into oblivion by the fact that most speakers are L2 speakers and by the very fact that it’s not marked in the orthography.

  170. David Eddyshaw says

    It’s just struck me that paa [pʰaa] “gazelle” is the same etymon as in “impala”, and by perfectly regular sound changes at that. Don’t you love comparative linguistics?

  171. I just started playing with Eurphon. Go to the search page, type “= 0 voiceless bilabial plosive” into the query box, and submit.

    Lots of p-less languages in Equatorial and Northern Africa, and Eastern PNG. None in Eurasia north of Arabic.
    I suspect /p/-less languages usually occur through *p > f or ɸ, and thence often to /h/ and oblivion, but I don’t have any evidence for it. Kümmel’s Konsonantenwandel doesn’t give any examples of *p unconditionally becoming another stop, but then he sampled mostly Eurasian languages.

  172. And if you search for “= 0 bilabial plosive” you’ll find much fewer languages, all in the Americas except for three in Eastern Africa (Kamba and Kuria near the Kenya/Tanzania border, Ndali in nortern Malawi).

  173. David Eddyshaw says

    It’s got Nawdm, I see, though it seems to have got its actual location swapped with Kabiyè, which (as a matter of fact) does have /p/: pp94-95 of Lébikaza’s grammar (which has an extremely comprehensive phonology section), eg. piyuu “être noir”, paʋ “danser”. It’s in complementary distribution with /b/ non-initially, but there seems to be no good reason to pick the latter as the “real” phoneme, and L does no such thing himself. This does not inspire me with confidence …

    They also describe Kabiyè as a “Kabyeic” language, whihc I suppose it must be, more or less by definition; most of us would, however, go out on a limb and call it a Gurunsi language … the great unwashed would probably even call it “Gur” (shudders) …

    They also seem to have missed the fact that many more languages do have a /p/, but it’s marginal, being confined to loanwords and ideophones. I suspect this is the sort of information you’d miss if you just leaf through the first page or so of a description.

    It is, however, correct in asserting that Kusaal has a /p/ …

  174. John Cowan says

    Eh? Which of the six letters in Kusaal represents /p/?

  175. David Eddyshaw says

    The “p” is silent, as in “bath.”

  176. David Eddyshaw says

    The phylum-genus classification in PHOIBLE is very odd (and unhelpful); it goes straight from the very highest genetic grouping to the very lowest, short of simply repeating the name of the language itself, with nothing in between, rather like describing a human being (Homo sapiens sapiens) as “Eukaryote: Homo sapiens.” Genus is not at all the right word for these extremely low-level groupuscules, either. “Species”, more like.

  177. I suspect /p/-less languages usually occur through *p > f or ɸ, and thence often to /h/ and oblivion, but I don’t have any evidence for it.

    That’s Modern Japanese. p‘s survive only in onomatopoeic words, after N‘s, and in recent loans: pikapika ‘aglitter’, kanpai ‘cheers!’, purēyā ‘player’.

  178. I forgot gemination: kappatsu ‘lively, animated, active, brisk’.

  179. *p > w seems to have occured in several South American languages of different families.

  180. See this Google search on (“if I were to” OR “if I was to”) at the NZ Herald site, …

    Thank you @Noetica. I’m still working through your examples. I notice something very strange: If I run a search for my local newspaper (The Christchurch Press), there’s barely 200 hits, and most of those before 2015. And chiefly written by or quoting politicos well known to be pompous. (Contrast there’s ~2,700 for “If I”, and right up to this year. So I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong.)

    The newspaper is part of a group/many articles are syndicated. Searching across the group gives plenty of hits for “were/was to “.

    So …? Christchurch has some sort of idiolect, which it shares with Dawkins and Hitchens(?) The Press has a house style to avoid those locutions(?) Come to think, a new Deputy Editor was appointed 2015, promoted to Editor 2018. She’s about two generations younger than the incumbent hacks. Hmm …

    To be clear on the issue at hand: I make no claims about any difference in meaning/realis in “were to” vs “was to”. Merely I claim both forms are moribund in NZ — or at least in Christchurch, it seems.

    Congrats on biffing out the toerag Morrison.

  181. There’s a “If I was to …” quoted from a ratepayer 2018. And a “If I were to” in a comedic piece 2020 — from a writer who’s originally a Brit, an ex-English teacher, older than me, and the piece was deliberately adopting pompous phrasing for ironic effect.

    Otherwise nothing since 2015. (There’s a few mis-dated appearing in the search; a few more that don’t use the phrase at all despite appearing in the search — perhaps it got editted out.) Moribund.

  182. David Eddyshaw says

    Congrats on biffing out the toerag Morrison

    Mine too.

  183. Tow rag is the relevant term of art, I believe. But hush: conservatives walk among us. (And indeed, I’m not big on such conventional categories myself, when all’s said and done.)

  184. … except with italics confined to the first two words. (I’m far too old to be typing on a phone.)

  185. toerag: 3. A worthless or despicable person.

    Or you’re being too clever for me. “An untwisted bundle of fibers “?

    It was conservatives whose opinion I was voicing.

  186. David Eddyshaw says

    conservatives walk among us

    This is very true. I found a pair of sunglasses in a cardboard box from the church that lets me see them.

  187. The interwebs are at sixes and sevens. catachrestic says one. Tuareg says another. inter alia A rag tied to something being towed — or to the tow rope. Although the only actual citation there is to an Australian convict’s memoir, in the sense портя́нки.

    A wheat-ear?

  188. David Eddyshaw says

    *p > w seems to have occured in several South American languages of different families

    *p -> zero happened in the prehistory of Nahuatl, as I recall, though the language evidently acquired a new /p/ somehow. Popocatepetl …

  189. Hmm WordPress seems to have swallowed my etymons — too much sailor’s slang? Or I messed up my html?

    And I put in a портя́нки especially for @Hat. Perhaps he could deal with the durance vile, thank you.

  190. One of the classic not-so-Eurasian p-elimination strategies is unconditional *p > *k (> /k/ ~ /tʃ/) in Arapaho, and I seem to recall (75% confidence) that in Aleut it would be > /h-/ initially but ⁽*⁾/-m̥-/ word-medially.

    Hungarian never entirely eliminated /p/: only word-initial *p- goes to /f/, while mediofinal /f/ basically doesn’t exist outside of recent internationalisms of the büfé, ufó sort. There would probably be some stage in early Hungarian, before the reintroduction of initial /p-/, where we can argue for [f-], [-p-] to continue being allophones of a single voiceless labial obstruent phoneme /P/. Considering also initial stress, this seems indeed very compatible with the assumption of routing via aspiration. Paralleled also by general *[q-] > †ch > /h/ initially but, again, not medially.

    Even the corresponding Khanty *q that ends up fricativized to /χ/ in western varieties is similarly aspirated in some of the eastern varieties. At least Nganasan, on the other hand, clearly shows *p > †f > /h/, but no aspiration worth noting in any source I’ve seen. It even kind of follows the Hungarian example in only fricativizing onset *p. Coda [p] remains, even though in the process it ends up rephonemicized as an allophone of /b/ (so e.g. *pt > /bt/ = [pt]).

    Ket, too, shows the same chain (*p >> /h/, new [p] introduced from /b/) but I wouldn’t know about its phonetic details.

    A rather clear, if different, example of a Siberian /f/ from aspiration is East Central (Narym) Selkup, which does *s > /h/, *ps > /f/, so presumably thru *ph > *pʰ.

    I notice something very strange

    Google has, indeed, recently begun to pull it’s search result counts just plain out of its posterior, to the chagrin of amateur corpus linguists everywhere. Still works for showing that something is attested, but fairly little else. :/

  191. Perhaps he could deal with the durance vile, thank you.

    Done! And a good thing you mentioned it, because for some reason the software didn’t alert me to a comment in moderation.

  192. John Cowan says

    Tow rag is plainly false etymology, but as toerag is pretty much rhyming slang for douchebag, spelling is kinda irrelevant.

  193. toerag is pretty much rhyming slang for douchebag

    Huh? Do you have any evidence for this? It doesn’t sound plausible to me.

  194. *p -> zero happened in the prehistory of Nahuatl, as I recall, though the language evidently acquired a new /p/ somehow. Popocatepetl …

    Not everywhere. Word initially (so not in tepē-tl ‘mountain’), and only in nouns, not in verbs (so not in popōca ‘to smoke (i.)’). The reason for that distribution, suggested by Campbell and Langacker, is that the person prefix before the verb shielded its initial *p-. Some kinship terms which are obliged to have a possessive prefix also retained their initial root *p-. The sound change also didn’t affect later loanwords.

    *p > w also happens in Tohono O’odham, Tepehuano, and Tubar, I think.

  195. David Eddyshaw says

    Makes sense.

  196. David Marjanović says

    says that /p/ and /k/ are “sometimes” “more aspirated than in English”, particularly word-initially and in stressed syllables.

    This distribution makes sense, though.

    unconditional *p > *k (> /k/ ~ /tʃ/) in Arapaho

    Not another galaxy-brain sound change in Arapaho!

    They also seem to have missed the fact that many more languages do have a /p/, but it’s marginal, being confined to loanwords and ideophones.

    High German for starters: /p/ is native in /sp/, and that’s it, except for 2 or 3 words where *mb became /mp/ (as theoretically expected) instead of the regular /mː/, and of course for the rare *bb in those lects that have lost consonant length. Other than that it occurs in loans (some of at least MHG date: Pech “pitch, bad luck”, Pacht “lease”) and in onomatopoetic verbs (pecken, 2 x picken…).

    toerag is pretty much rhyming slang for douchebag

    I think toerags had long fallen out of use when douchebags became fashionable.

  197. toerags had long fallen out of use

    toerag in the metaphorical sense of douchebag is going strong: 2001 Eric Clapton; 2007 J K Rowling.

    (Why does wiktionary have two entries: ‘toerag’; ‘toe rag’?)

    I’m with Hat on questioning the rhyming slang.

  198. Going tow to toe:

    In fact there’s no reason to restrict ourselves to a single origin in cases like “to[e,w]-rag”, even if OED knows only one origin.

    It’s common for two or more causations to converge. Sometimes, but not always, we know which came first, as with “one fell swoop” which almost certainly increased in use when people heard it as “one foul swoop” – or even, as published sources attest, as “one fowl swoop”. Think also of “the die[1,2] is cast”, and “toe [or tow] the line”. On a tangent, I am reminded of the two quite separate meanings of “fire drill”, and of “toilet roll”. As for “douche bag”, I’d be very surprised if it were anything other than a weak reinforcer for acceptance of “toe-rag”, with effect confined to US speakers.

    If Hitchens or Dawkins were to write like that:

    AntC might like to look at a Google search on “if * were to” in published sources for these authors. Both use that form freely for irrealis, even if they don’t happen to do so every time on Youtube. Same register, pretty well, for their books and their formal spoken presentations.

    And if they didn’t, so what? No one is claiming that “if [singular] were” is the only way to express irrealis. It is one of several, and sometimes it works very efficiently. Does anyone think it is not widely understood, as a substitute for “if * was” or “if * did”? That would take some arguing!

    And “if [singular] were” has the clear advantage mark we want to mark irrealis unambiguously from the very start. Neither “if * was” nor “if * did” achieves that. Not even with any vocal emphasis (or what alternative, in a written text?), as I argue above with different continuations of “if I did that”.

    In my editing, which I do as an independent operator, I sometimes have to conform to CMOS (heaven help us) or some other style “authority”. I can do that. I am versed in them, and have most of them on my shelf or as a subscription online. But beyond that occasional restriction, I adopt whatever will work best and be least cumbersome or distracting for the task in hand – conditioned by the variant I am working with, which is sometimes US or UK but normally Australian English. How wrong I would be to exclude either “if * did” or “if * were” for irrealis, on doctrinaire grounds. No house style for me, or for my client flock. A style sheet for local consistency will suffice.

  199. I had a very brief moment of wondering what Noetica’s editing had to do with complementary metal-oxide semiconductors. Conforming to electronics documentation standards, perhaps?

  200. I adopt whatever will work best and be least cumbersome or distracting for the task in hand

    … is the point >sigh<

    vide the recent discussion here of the two almost diametrically opposite senses of the verb ‘sanction’. I would expect an editor to be aware of those senses and how to tell them apart. I would also expect an editor to advise their client not to use the verb at all — as (precisely) too distracting for the audience.

    Does anyone think it is not widely understood, as a substitute for “if * was” or “if * did”?

    Yes, me: that locution is not in my active vocabulary. It’s not even in the passive vocabulary for most of my interlocutors — at best they’ll vaguely perceive it as something archaic/pompous. It would come across as (precisely) cumbersome and distracting.

    And yes it depends on register. Next time I’m writing a book on atheology for an Oxonian readership [**], I’ll bear the possible locution in mind — and almost certainly still reject it. (Unless I’m being ironical — I notice the comedic writer in our local paper deploys it quite a bit.)

    And “if [singular] were” has the clear advantage …

    @Noetica, we would get along much better if you avoided lecturing me like my Latin master telling me split infinitives or negative concord are bad English — because Latin doesn’t do that. And/or because they’re unclear — which they conspicuously are not. In your head you seem to have some (precisely) doctrinaire construct that has a “clear advantage”. The construct is not in my head; nor that of my interlocutors. It therefore has clear disadvantages. And FFS ‘If’ at the start is the main signal.

    Furthermore, the was/were distinction only works with singular NPs. For me it doesn’t work with ‘you’ — even where it’s clearly semantically singular. How does it go for irrealis if the NP is plural?

    No one is claiming that “if [singular] were” is the only way to express irrealis.

    Good. Then I can always avoid it. I do and will continue to.

    [**] I introduced the Dawkins and Hitchens examples because my hypothesis was that if anybody used it, it would be Dawkins and more likely Hitchens in a deism/theism debate. And I’d recently watched the Eddington concession lecture with its maneuvering around remote conditionals. I was fairly surprised I couldn’t come across Hitchens using the construct — him being more American-influenced, and more pompous. (“pompous” = more likely to blatter you over the head with complex language, to neutralise your critical thinking.)

  201. comedic writer More irrealis

    “If seven maids with seven mops
    Swept it for half a year,
    Do you suppose,” the Walrus said,
    “That they could get it clear?”
    “I doubt it,” said the Carpenter,
    And shed a bitter tear.

    “Were to sweep it for half a year” would fit the scansion better. And yet, another Oxonian didn’t use the form.

  202. Brett:

    I had a very brief moment of wondering what Noetica’s editing had to do with complementary metal-oxide semiconductors.

    Oddly enough, it does sometimes concern such matters.

    AntC:

    I would also expect an editor to advise their client not to use the verb at all — as (precisely) too distracting for the audience.

    Sure. So what? If in the context or for the readership “to sanction” were ambiguous, we professional editors would know what to do about it.

    Noetica, we would get along much better if you avoided lecturing me like my Latin master telling me split infinitives or negative concord are bad English — because Latin doesn’t do that.

    No one is doing any such thing. Except perhaps you, when you maintain that “if [singular] were” is out of bounds. (Not in your house style, it seems.)

    The construct is not in my head; nor that of my interlocutors. It therefore has clear disadvantages. …

    I see! In that case if I were editing or writing for you I would strive for stark simplicity above all else. A wording can have advantages and disadvantages all at the same time. Language. Complicated.

    … And FFS ‘If’ at the start is the main signal.

    Nope. “If” at the start signals a conditional, but it tells us nothing about whether that conditional is irrealis. And in fact, no “if” is present in some conditionals, such as this irrealis:

    “Were I to edit or write for you I would …”

    (But I avoid those.)

    Furthermore, the was/were distinction only works with singular NPs. For me it doesn’t work with ‘you’ — even where it’s clearly semantically singular.

    Yes, it works with singular subjects. And it very often is perfectly effective with “you”, when context makes a singular understanding of the “you” a reasonable default. If that doesn’t hold, we are alert for possible problems and act to nullify them. We have ways.

    How does it go for irrealis if the NP is plural?

    When the subject is plural (like the uncertain “you” just mentioned), irrealis may not be marked so swiftly at the start using “If * were to phi”. So what? Nor would it be with alternatives we’ve been discussing: “If * was to phi” [not available for a plural], or “If * did phi”. Nor with “If * phied”. If for some reason marking irrealis at the outset were a paramount issue, we might use “If * should phi”. But that would be a rare prime concern, and a rare recourse.

    Good. Then I can always avoid it. I do and will continue to.

    No one’s advising you to do otherwise. It’s just that some of us like to cultivate a flexible and responsive approach in our writing, and we don’t need to be berated for our choice. Or lectured to, as if by a Latin mistress.

  203. David Marjanović says

    “Were to sweep it for half a year” would fit the scansion better.

    It fits both of the scansions I can come up with worse. How do you scan it?

  204. PlasticPaddy says

    @AntC
    I agree with DM here. Maybe you could try beating out the rhythm on a drum (or tabletop):
    “If seven maids with seven mops
    Swept it for half a year,

    tum TIDdle TUM tum TIDdle tum
    TIDdle tum TIDdle TUM

  205. In my editing, which I do as an independent operator, I sometimes have to conform to CMOS (heaven help us) or some other style “authority”. I can do that. I am versed in them, and have most of them on my shelf or as a subscription online. But beyond that occasional restriction, I adopt whatever will work best and be least cumbersome or distracting for the task in hand

    Preach! This is exactly how I viewed the matter when I was still editing for money. (Now I do it just for the thrills.)

    But you and AntC seem to be arguing simply for the sake of arguing now — I don’t think you disagree on anything essential, you just have different preferences.

  206. I don’t think you disagree on anything essential, you just have different preferences.

    Thanks Hat. Meh, a tedious exchange that I’m quite happy to drop. I sometimes feel a need to see every point replied to. Not always a good idea.

  207. How do you scan it?

    All of the lines in that stanza (indeed in most of the pome) start on a weak beat — except for ‘Swept’.

    So I insert an upbeat ‘were tə’ before the ‘sweep’. (Admittedly I’m squishing two syllables into one beat, better with ‘cəd’ or ‘wəd’, but that would be off the point/somewhat change the extent of irrealis/imaginary maids don’t have volition, and there’s already a ‘could’ on line 4.)

    On further thought, remove the ‘it’ — which is only a make-weight, and forces ‘Swept-ət’ to be a TIDdle unlike the start of most other even lines in the pome. So now line 2 follows the scansion of 4 and 6, with which it’s rhyming, and of most other line 2’s.

    tum TUM tum TIDdle TUM

    Because she thought the sun
    The sands were dry as dry
    Were walking close at hand
    Were-to sweep for half a year
    That they could get it clear
    And shed a bitter tear
    The walrus did beseech
    But never a word he said — ? should be ne’er
    All eager for the treat
    And yet another four
    Walked on a mile or two
    To talk of many things

  208. Dodgson was definitely careful about the meter in those silly verses—sometimes more careful about the meter than the words. He actually gave the illustrator John Tenniel a choice of what kind of being the walrus’s partner should be: butterfly, baronet, or carpenter. All of them fit the rhythm, and Dodgson said he would use whichever one Tenniel preferred to draw. (There seems to have been a fair amount of this kind of collaboration between Dodgson and Tenniel in the preparation of Through the Looking Glass.)

  209. I always thought The Walrus and the Carpenter was a take-off on The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (“The Sun came up upon the left / Out of the sea came he!”) but I never heard of anyone else who thought so, including Gardner.

  210. Gardner says modelled on The Dream of Eugene Aram Thomas Hood.

    The scansion and rhyme schemes are the same (six-line stanzas rhyming the even lines). Even-numbered lines go mostly

    ti TUM tum TIDdle TUM: An evening calm and cool

    Whereas the Coleridge has 4-line stanzas; it’s scansion is not so consistently thrumming. ‘Nor any drop to drink’ works. ‘Like the whizz of my cross-bow!’ doesn’t — even after eliding Like-the.

  211. AntC, you’re inserting not one but two extra syllables, which would make that line the only eight-syllable one of the poem’s even lines. LC sticks to the ballad-like repetition of eight plus six syllable lines pretty closely throughout, with the exception of “But never a word he said.” But “never” is often treated as monosyllabic in English prosody (“ne’er”) so no big deal here.

    Your version would make that line stand much farther out than it does – which isn’t much at all, considering that the poem’s second line goes, “Shining with all his might,” and the second stanza has “After the day was done.”

  212. David Marjanović says

    All of the lines in that stanza (indeed in most of the pome) start on a weak beat — except for ‘Swept’.

    Ah, so you switch between the two patterns I was thinking of. In one, all lines start on a weak beat; in the other, the short lines all start on a strong beat – TUM tiddle TUM ti TUM. It turns out that’s the only one Shining with all his might and After the day was done fit.

    But “never” is often treated as monosyllabic in English prosody (“ne’er”)

    I think it’s more likely here that never a is treated as two syllables: nev ra.

  213. David Marjanović says

    The “fifth corner” is a cruel children’s game, in which bullies push a younger student around the four corners of a classroom until he “finds the fifth corner”; police took this up, and would offer a suspect the chance to escape the interrogation if he were to “find the fifth corner.”

    THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!

  214. David Marjanović: “I think it’s more likely here that never a is treated as two syllables: nev ra.”

    Like “many a” treated as “men ya,” perhaps. But also see M-W’s etymology for nary:

    Nary, most often used in the phrase “nary a” to mean “not a single,” is an 18th-century alteration of the adjectival phrase “ne’er a,” in which ne’er is a contraction of never. That contraction dates to the 13th century…

  215. I think it’s more likely here that never a is treated as two syllables: nev ra.

    No, that’s rare as far as I know, whereas “ne’er” is common as dirt.

  216. Lars Mathiesen says

    Is it just right out to scan it “swept IT for HALF a YEAR”? I think that’s what I’d do if reading those verses out loud, and not find it very odd.

  217. David Marjanović says

    That’s probably the first thing I tried, but it puts way too much emphasis (outside a contrastive context) on “it”, and on “they” two lines later.

    It does fit “And shed a bitter tear” better, but stressing that on “and” instead isn’t too much worse.

  218. Is it just right out to scan it “swept IT for HALF a YEAR”?

    Yes, that would sound like a kindergartener. Swapping out a trochee for an iamb is completely normal in English iambic verse to provide variety.

  219. David Marjanović says

    Oh, so it’s supposed to vary, like “that is the question”?

  220. C’est ça.

  221. David Marjanović says

    Didn’t occur to me because it’s not supposed to happen in German. Some famous lines actually come out pretty tortured in verse. None less than Goethe, where Faust contemplates suicide and sees a vial of poison on a shelf in his lab:

    Ich grüße dich, erhabene Phiole,
    die ich mit Andacht nun herunterhole!

    The first line is completely straightforwardly iambic; it comes out that way if read as prose. The second line, though? It took me years to notice that it’s supposed to be in verse at all. I used to think Faust interrupted his versified monologue with a prose line for extra emotional punch or something (accents as pitch marks):

    DÍE ich mit ÀNdacht nun heRÚNterhole!

    But no. It’s clearly supposed to be pronounced artificially:

    die ÍCH mit ÁNdacht NÚN heRÚNterHÓle!

    That fits the meter and the individual stresses of the (phonological) words. It’s as bad as “swept IT”, but Goethe had different priorities.

  222. John Cowan says

    English iambic verse can have one or more trochaic substitutions, though not in the last foot: “To be, or not to be: that is the question” / Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer” inverts the fourth foot of the first line (“that is”) and the first foot of the second line (“Whether”) before reverting to plain iambic pentameter in the third line: “The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

  223. Then there’s the extreme example of King Lear’s “Never, never, never, never, never!”

  224. Greek “political” verse has seven iambs plus an additional weak syllable and the end for each line. Sometimes natural pronunciation makes this sound more like one weak syllable, followed by seven trochees.

  225. Rodger C says

    Having read many comments on Shakespeare, sometimes (especially in my youth) in cheap play editions, I actually once came across the claim that Lear must be saying “NeVER, neVER, neVER, neVER, neVER!” Also that in “toad that under cold stone,” “toad” must be a dissyllable. It was long ago, but I have the impression that both commentators were German.

  226. Here may be the ne plus ultra of preservation of the subjective as an American reaction against decaying British standards—from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Gray Champion“:

    What were his thoughts he uttered no word which might discover, but, whether the oppressor were overawed by the Gray Champion’s look or perceived his peril in the threatening attitude of the people, it is certain that he gave back and ordered his soldiers to commence a slow and guarded retreat. Before another sunset the governor and all that rode so proudly with him were prisoners, and long ere it was known that James had abdicated King William was proclaimed throughout New England.

    You can find quite a few more whether-subjunctives in Twice Told Tales (and presumably Hawthorne’s other works), but this was felt especially unidiomatic*† to my modern parser.

    I can construct some similar things that definitely sound better than

    * … whether the oppressor were overawed by the Gray Champion’s look or perceived his peril in the threatening attitude of the people…

    although they are still all “ostentatiously overeducated” at best, e. g.:

    ? … if the oppressor were overawed by the Gray Champion’s look or perceived his peril in the threatening attitude of the people….

    Not that Hawthorne was himself consistent about using a subjunctive with whether. Later on, “Wakefield” has:

    Yet for its sake, when all others have given him up for dead, she sometimes doubts whether she is a widow.

    This definitely has an irrealis element, but it is also part of a narration in the present tense, although I see no reason why the author might not have written, “whether she be a widow,” instead.

    * Naturally, the sense of discover Hawthorne uses is also unidiomatic today. I wonder further whether there is an interesting linguistic element to Hawthorne’s use of “abdicated” here. I would certainly not say that James II had “abdicated,” although the Convention Parliament ruled that by fleeing the country and disposing of his royal seal, the king had constructively abdicated.

    † Should I switch to something other than asterisks for my footnotes, to avoid confusion with markings for unacceptability, which I have also used above? Moreover: I normally call the symbol I used here a “dagger,” but I am well aware that it is also known by the name obelus. However, apparently the Latinate name for the “double dagger” ‡, previously unfamiliar to me, is diesis, and I wondered, Why? The term diesis is used to describe certain small intervals in music (such as quarter tones, or differences between notes in just and equal temperament), which makes sense in light of its Latin meaning of “difference.” The OED says this is the origin of the name for the printer’s symbol ‡, which was sometimes used for accidentals before the standardization of musical notation.

    I now even further wonder whether the use of ‡ in chemistry—where it denotes something related to an unstable intermediate state that never exists on its own, only as a transition state that a reaction passes through—is related to the musical sense of diesis, “interval,” as well. I had previously just assumed that it was an arbitrarily symbol, probably chosen because * and † were already in use.

  227. Good questions all! I don’t think I’d come across “diesis,” but the OED (entry not updated since 1895) says “In French, the sign of the ‘sharp’ ♯ is called dièse,” and I certainly knew that word.

  228. I have no idea, but “unstable intermediary state” is higher on the energy scale, just like dièse is shifting a note one semitone up. Also, the sign ‡ looks like it is showing the distance between the two marks.

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