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  1. #41
    lauralie2 is offline Senior Member
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    Re: subjunctive or not

    Quote Originally Posted by Johnson_F View Post
    1. Corum asked in post 30, "Is English strictly an SVO language?, and, of course, the answer is no.
    Agreed. In retrospect, I should have explained what I meant by 'word-order': come March is obviously not S (come) + V (March); furthermore, while the reverse order (VS), as in 'Come (ye) March', is possible, the comparison is too much of a stretch given that 'ye', not 'March', is the subject.


    Quote Originally Posted by Johnson_F View Post
    3. I think I agree with you here, but do not really understand your, "we are constrained by the grammar to define it any other way."
    Given the structural constraints on where nouns can occur, if 'March' is not the subject or the object of a verb, then the only other option available to us is that 'March' is the object of a preposition.



  2. #42
    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
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    Re: subjunctive or not

    Quote Originally Posted by lauralie2 View Post
    Agreed. In retrospect, I should have explained what I meant by 'word-order': come March is obviously not S (come) + V (March); furthermore, while the reverse order (VS), as in 'Come (ye) March', is possible, the comparison is too much of a stretch given that 'ye', not 'March', is the subject.
    It's a very interesting discussion. I wanted to stay away because I'm not a linguist and feared I would say something stupid, but I just can't help myself.

    I think nobody has yet explained the origin of the construction. It would be an interesting thing to read, does anybody know that?

    In my opinion, it's inevitable that most of our (human) categorizations produce (subjunctive? ) a certain number of monsters that are difficult to classify (when the categorization is not strict) or make up too small a category. (Those who are interested in mathematics may see a similarity with the classification of finite simple groups.) It's understandable that we want our categories as simple as possible but it's often impossible to achieve without giving up something else, perhaps as valuable.

    I think that if we gave the "come March" sentence to a computer program taught some strict rules of recognizing word classes, we would quickly get the answer that come is a preposition there. It behaves like one and it doesn't behave like a verb. The only two possible verb hypotheses are the subjunctive and the imperative and both can be rejected because it's not the way the subjunctive or the imperative is used. And such an answer may be satisfactory.

    There's still one problem though. This answer seems to be against some speakers' intuition (which was expressed in this thread). I understand that they "use it as a verb" by which I mean that they think it a verb when they use it. I, for one, have never used the construction, but whenever I read it I thought of come as of a verb, not a preposition. As I said, I'm not a linguist and I don't know whether it really is a problem. I read in this article that parts of speech are recognized by "the syntactic or morphological behaviour of the lexical item in question." So, it seems to me, users' feelings are irrelevant. Is it really so? What do you think?

    Now, why didn't some members like the preposition hypothesis? I feel the answer must lie in the history of the construction. As I'm one of those who were displeased with the hypothesis at first, I'll try to justify my feelings.

    I can't believe that it was first used this way with the intention of using a prepositional phrase. I believe it must have been originally used as a subjunctive clause. Perhaps it wasn't correct to use the subjunctive this way even then, but I believe this usage of come was never meant to be prepositional. It looks like the now-archaic use of the present subjunctive, if March be; if we substitute come for be and carry out the often-encountered if-inversion (wow, I have never produced so many hyphens un one sentence before!), we'll see exactly come March. That was my first thought when I started reading this thread. Do you think it could explain the origin of the construcion?

    As for the users' feelings again, I recently read somewhere (probably on this forum) that let in let's dance was an auxiliary verb. It was stated as if it were a scientific fact and I believed it was. But now I think it's exactly a case of using one's feelings (created by knowledge of etymology) to determine the word class a word belongs to. I will have to resort to my native language now. Let's take an example of an English third-person imperative sentence:

    Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

    In Polish:

    Niech ten, który jest bez grzechu, rzuci pierwszy kamień.

    The pair of sentences have a very nice feature: they mean exactly the same and they employ exactly the same word order. (The Polish sentence is one word shorter, which is because there are no articles in Polish. "The" is omitted.)

    Let and niech both introduce the imperative mood. Him and ten are both subjects. Cast and rzuci are both something I don't know the English term for, but their function is clear. The rest is not important.

    Since let and niech have exactly the same functions it would be natural to demand that they be in the same word class I think. But I have never heard of anybody saying that niech is an auxiliary verb. And I think the different approaches of Polish and English grammarians to exactly the same thing might be caused by the different feelings they have about the words let and niech respectively. Let is mainly a verb in English which, I guess, makes English grammarians call it a verb in this context too. Niech has no other function than this, so nothing makes Polish grammarians feel it's a verb. (Even though its origin is verbal. It happened too long ago to influence our thinking.)

    I think, if my interpretation is correct, this could prove that linguists do not base entirely on syntax and morphology. If that's how it should be or not is another matter, which I would love to hear from you about.

    This is the first time I have written such a long post on these forums! I still hope someone reads it though!
    Last edited by birdeen's call; 12-Dec-2010 at 14:16. Reason: Some day I'll post something without mistakes.

  3. #43
    lauralie2 is offline Senior Member
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    Re: subjunctive or not

    Quote Originally Posted by birdeen's call View Post
    It's a very interesting discussion. I wanted to stay away because I'm not a linguist and feared I would say something stupid, but I just can't help myself.
    Well, I am very glad you decided to join. We could use the added brainpower.

    Quote Originally Posted by birdeen's call View Post
    I think nobody has yet explained the origin of the construction. It would be an interesting thing to read, does anybody know that?
    Not I, but from what I gather it looks verb-based in origin, and whether it was subjunctive or not is difficult to tell since we are dealing with an archaic form. For all we know it could have been unaccusative in origin (Cf., arch. March is come).


    Quote Originally Posted by birdeen's call View Post
    There's still one problem though. This answer seems to be against some speakers' intuition (which was expressed in this thread). I understand that they "use it as a verb" by which I mean that they think it a verb when they use it. I, for one, have never used the construction, but whenever I read it I thought of come as of a verb, not a preposition
    Me, too, and that's because of its function and distribution elsewhere in the grammar: I have always used 'come' as a verb, never as a preposition, but that doesn't mean it cannot be a preposition, notably where it makes sense, as in the adverbial function of 'come March'.

    Quote Originally Posted by birdeen's call View Post
    As I said, I'm not a linguist and I don't know whether it really is a problem. I read in this article that parts of speech are recognized by "the syntactic or morphological behaviour of the lexical item in question." So, it seems to me, users' feelings are irrelevant. Is it really so? What do you think?
    To me, the term 'feelings' means speaker intuition, and speaker intuition stems from "the syntactic [and] morphological behavior of lexical items". So you see, 'feelings' are relevant, but that doesn't mean the assumptions resulting from those feelings are always valid. For example, those who believe 'come' is a verb might argue that since 'come' reads like a verb that it must be a verb, but that does not mean that 'come March' is a verb. The true test is in whether a verb phrase can function adverbially. Others might use the preposition test (whatever a cat can do): a cat can go in/on/under/over a box, but cannot go *'come' a box, therefore 'come' is not a preposition, but, again, that doesn't mean 'come March' isn't a preposition. That phrase behaves adverbially, and such phrases can be prepositions in form, which makes that argument more plausible than the first one, that 'come March' is a verb phrase.

    Quote Originally Posted by birdeen's call View Post
    ..., but I believe this usage of come was never meant to be prepositional. It looks like the now-archaic use of the present subjunctive, if March be; if we substitute come for be and carry out the often-encountered if-inversion..., we'll see exactly come March. That was my first thought when I started reading this thread. Do you think it could explain the origin of the construcion?
    I like your analysis, but remain neutral at this stage because I am not sure what 'if March be' means exactly and whether that meaning is shared here: 'come March'. What does it mean to you?

    Quote Originally Posted by birdeen's call View Post
    Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.
    It's a verb to me. (See here. Scroll down to When the pronoun is the object of one verb and the object of another.)
    Last edited by lauralie2; 12-Dec-2010 at 16:47.

  4. #44
    Johnson_F's Avatar
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    Re: subjunctive or not

    Birdeeen's comment about the computer program is not dissimilar to mine on another thread:

    "An anthropologist/linguist examining English for the first time might well decide that 'come' in 'come January' was a preposition. Those in this thread arguing against this reading are perhaps too influenced by their knowledge of the probable subjunctive origin of this type of expression, as I have been. We are also perhaps influenced by our knowledge that prepositions, unlike some other word-classes are generally presented as a 'closed class', but there is no reason that this class should be closed. It has just happened that very few prepositions have been added to the language for centuries. Welcome prepositional 'come', perhaps."

    Quite where this takes us, I am not sure!

  5. #45
    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
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    Re: subjunctive or not

    Quote Originally Posted by lauralie2 View Post
    Not I, but from what I gather it looks verb-based in origin, and whether it was subjunctive or not is difficult to tell since we are dealing with an archaic form. For all we know it could have been unaccusative in origin (Cf., arch. March is come).
    That's a good idea! It's better then my vague thoughts about "if". Maybe someone who knows more will happen to read this and clear that up for us?
    To me, the term 'feelings' means speaker intuition, and speaker intuition stems from "the syntactic [and] morphological behavior of lexical items". So you see, 'feelings' are relevant, but that doesn't mean the assumptions resulting from those feelings are always valid. For example, those who believe 'come' is a verb might argue that since 'come' reads like a verb that it must be a verb, but that does not mean that 'come March' is a verb. The true test is in whether a verb phrase can function adverbially. Others might use the preposition test (whatever a cat can do): a cat can go in/on/under/over a box, but cannot go *'come' a box, therefore 'come' is not a preposition, but, again, that doesn't mean 'come March' isn't a preposition. That phrase behaves adverbially, and such phrases can be prepositions in form, which makes that argument more plausible than the first one, that 'come March' is a verb phrase.
    I see. The leap from a vaguely defined word to a strictly defined scientific term is requires sacrificing a bit of intuition... I will have to live with this.
    I like your analysis, but remain neutral at this stage because I am not sure what 'if March be' means exactly and whether that meaning is shared here: 'come March'. What does it mean to you?
    After I read the first paragraph of your post, I'm not very much inclined to defend this. I'll try to explain what I meant though.

    First of all, my choice of the verb "be" was completely arbitrary and I think unnecessary. I could write "if March come" in the first place. I simply meant the use of the present subjunctive in "if" clauses. You asked about "if March be" though, so I have googled the phrase and, to my surprise, found something:
    If March be dry and April showery, happy the husband-man who has finished sowing.
    (A handbook of weather folk-lore; being a collection a collection of proverbial sayings in various languages relating to the weather, with explanatory and illustrative notes, Charles Swainson, 1873)

    The problem is that the "come March" sentence doesn't have anything to do with hypothesising, which the use of "if" would imply. So my idea doesn't actually explain anything, unless we accept that people changed "when" to "if" at some point. (It doesn't seem completely impossible to me, but neither does it seem probable.)

    It's a verb to me. (See here. Scroll down to When the pronoun is the object of one verb and the object of another.)
    Do you accept that "you" is the subject of this sentence then?

  6. #46
    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
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    Re: subjunctive or not

    I have just found http://www.usingenglish.com/forum/an...e-january.html It seems that most of what has been said on this topic on these forums has been said twice.

    This startled me:
    In sense 36.a, 'come' "is used with a future date following as subject ...'eighteen years old come Martinmas, - come Easter; i.e. let Easter come, when Easter shall come. arch. and dial."
    (post 17 by Johnson F, a quotation from OED)

    So possibly

    come March = let March come?

    Eh... It's becoming more and more complicated.

  7. #47
    philo2009 is offline Key Member
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    Re: subjunctive or not

    Just a couple of brief observations:

    1. Regarding the notion that the word 'come' in e.g.

    Come January, we'll have snow.

    , if subjected to some kind of mechanical (i.e. totally non-cognitive/non-semantic) linguistic analysis, would be rated a preposition: if that were the case, then we would presumably get exactly the same error with regard to 'next' in

    Next January, we'll have snow.

    , 'last' in

    Last January, we had snow.

    and 'every' in

    Every January, we have snow.

    - all, needless to say, adjectives!!


    2. There is plenty of precedence, albeit in the form of set expressions, for construing a sentence-initial plain verb-form as an optative subjunctive, including

    May you always be happy!
    Long live the king!

    Come what may,...
    Be that as it may,...

    The only difference regarding come January is the relative definiteness of sense that seemingly attaches to it in comparison with the relative indefiniteness of other cases.

    However, as some other contributors have already pointed out, that is simply to misread an archaic expression with very modern eyes: in bygone days when this kind of expression first evolved, there was not the level of certainty about the future that most of us take for granted today. It really did mean IF January comes!

    The actual lack of definiteness is probably obscured in this case by the fact of reference to a calendar month. If, however, we were to substitute something inherently less definite as subject, it would probably become clearer, e.g.

    Come the revolution, ordinary people will live like kings!

    Would anybody argue that the 'revolution' in question is necessarily being presented as an inevitable future event??

  8. #48
    Johnson_F's Avatar
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    Re: subjunctive or not

    There is a qualitative difference between the words in 'next January' and 'in January'. Some of us arguing that 'come' might be considered a preposition in modern English are as aware of that as Philo must be.

    Philo's point about past lack of definitiveness about the future would help in explaining the subjunctive. I, for one, have always agreed that 'come January' was orginally a subjunctive form. I am simply wondering if a fresh analysis of the form in today's language might come up with a prepositional answer.

  9. #49
    Johnson_F's Avatar
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    Re: subjunctive or not

    Birdeen's Call: I have just found http://www.usingenglish.com/forum/an...e-january.html It seems that most of what has been said on this topic on these forums has been said twice.

    Had the forums been merged at an early stage, it would have been helpful, but it's a bit late now. The other one started because Corum was trying to find an answer through diagramming.



    come March = let March come? Eh... It's becoming more and more complicated.


    I don't think so. 'Let March come' is simply a possible non-subjunctive paraphrase of a subjunctive form

  10. #50
    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
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    Re: subjunctive or not

    Quote Originally Posted by philo2009 View Post
    Just a couple of brief observations:

    1. Regarding the notion that the word 'come' in e.g.

    Come January, we'll have snow.

    , if subjected to some kind of mechanical (i.e. totally non-cognitive/non-semantic) linguistic analysis, would be rated a preposition: if that were the case, then we would presumably get exactly the same error with regard to 'next' in

    Next January, we'll have snow.

    , 'last' in

    Last January, we had snow.

    and 'every' in

    Every January, we have snow.

    - all, needless to say, adjectives!!
    I was hoping nobody would bring it forth. By strict rules of (...), I meant ones using semantic analysis too. (Now, I hope we're not going to end up in a discussion whether computer programs can do it. In another thread, yes.) Actually, one might argue that even the verb hypothesis can't refuted without semantic reasoning...

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