Subjunctive(?): not critical that

Dennis Preston preston at MSU.EDU
Sat Mar 22 21:14:38 UTC 2008

If Ron ask if I reconsider my rhetorical stance,
gladly. The facts, however, be(s) intact.


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>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       ronbutters at AOL.COM
>Subject:      Re: Subjunctive(?): not critical that
>I hope that Dennis rethink this?
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>-----Original Message-----
>From: Dennis Preston <preston at MSU.EDU>
>Date:         Sat, 22 Mar 2008 16:40:43
>Subject:      Re: [ADS-L] Subjunctive(?): not critical that
>This entire message assumes that the subjunctive
>is intact in Spanish and apparently used by all,
>unfortunately on the basis of a single Spanish
>teacher's instructions! (My favorite bit of
>sociolinguistics for quite some time is is "How
>seriously? My Spanish teacher...."). That would
>equate studying the drift of living languages by
>asking what their teachers taught. In fact, the
>Spanish subjunctive it is rapidly disappearing in
>nearly all varieties of spoken Spanish. Good
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>>Poster:       "JAMES A. LANDAU Netscape. Just the Net You Need."
>>                <JJJRLandau at NETSCAPE.COM>
>>Subject:      Re: Subjunctive(?): not critical that
>>Various ADS-L members have contributed the following to this thread:
>>>    > A practical reason for retaining the subjunctive is the fact that
>>>    > other languages have it or an equivalent. These foreign subjunctives
>>>    > are difficult to grasp, even when you're an active user of the English
>>>    > subjunctive, which itself can be difficult to grasp, as this thread
>>>    > shows.
>>>   So if using the English subjunctive doesn't
>>>help with foreign subjunctives,
>>>    then what is the practical reason for retaining the English subjunctive?
>>>Well, to keep sentences like the following from falling together:
>>>       She insists that he take his medicine.
>>>       She insists that he takes his medicine.
>>>among other reasons.
>>>Don't everybody agree that it don't be no reason for not even no
>>>(pswaydo-)standard in English.
>>Spanish is a language that takes the subjunctive
>>seriously.  How seriously?  My high school
>>Spanish teacher had us spend several weeks
>>studying nothing but the subjunctive, ending
>>with the longest take-home exam I have ever had.
>>It was at the end of those weeks that I first
>>felt that I spoke Spanish, because I could now
>>say so much more than before the exercise
>>An example, from Garcia Lorca  ퟙAunque sepa
>>los caminos, yo nunque llegare a Cordobaퟘ.
>>(ퟙEven though I may know the roads, I shall
>>never arrive at Cordovaퟘ).  The verb
>>ퟙsepaퟘ, which I rendered above as ퟙmay
>>knowퟘ, is in the subjunctive.  By using this
>>form of the verb, Garcia Lorca was able to
>>suggest something quite different from an
>>indicative ퟙEven though I *am* familiar with
>>the roads, I shall never arrive at Cordovaퟘ.
>>What purpose does the subjunctive serve in Spanish?
>>1.      setting the, uh, mood of a would-be or false-to-fact statement
>>2.      (much less often) making explicit
>>whether the speaker is speaking factually or
>>ퟙShe insists that he take his medicine.ퟘ is
>>subjunctive in that he apparently refuses or
>>forgets or something to take medicine.  ퟙShe
>>insists that he takes his medicineퟘ is
>>factual, in that she is stating that taking
>>medicine is an action he actually performs.
>>The problem in English is twofold.
>>1.      the subjunctive in English is so
>>vestigial that most people simply woníŸÙt
>>recognize the difference in meaning between
>  >ퟙthat he takeퟘ and ퟙthat he takesퟘ.
>>2.      the subjunctive only differs from the
>>indicative in the singular.  ퟙShe insists that
>>they take their medicineퟘ---is that indicative
>>or subjunctive?
>>Hence I say that the so-called ퟙsubjunctive
>>moodퟘ in English is not a true subjunctive but
>>rather a grammatical idiosyncracy which is
>>rarely used to distinguish two moods of a verb,
>>and should be referred to as a
>>How then does an English speaker express what a
>>Spanish-speaker would use the subjunctive for?
>>By using the aspects of the English verb.  The
>>true subjunctive in English can be expressed in
>>some contexts by using the ퟙmayퟘ and
>>ퟙmightퟘ aspects of the verb: ퟙeven though
>>I *may know* the roadsퟘ or by using the
>>emphatic/negative aspect, ퟙShe insists that he
>>does take his medicineퟘ as opposed to using
>>other aspects ퟙShe insists that he should take
>>his medicineퟘ or ퟙShe insists that he must
>>take his medicineퟘ.  This use of aspect also
>>works in the plural:  ퟙShe insists that they
>>do take their medicineퟘ as opposed to ퟙShe
>>insists that they must take their medicineퟘ.
>>Adverbs can also be used: ퟙShe insists that he
>>really takes his medicineퟘ versus ퟙShe
>>insists that he better take his medicine.ퟘ
>>             James A. Landau
>>             test engineer
>>             Northrop-Grumman Information Technology
>>             8025 Black Horse Pike, Suite 300
>>             West Atlantic City NJ 08232 USA
>>Netscape.  Just the Net You Need.
>>The American Dialect Society -
>Dennis R. Preston
>University Distinguished Professor
>Department of English
>Morrill Hall 15-C
>Michigan State University
>East Lansing, MI 48864 USA
>The American Dialect Society -
>The American Dialect Society -

Dennis R. Preston
University Distinguished Professor
Department of English
Morrill Hall 15-C
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48864 USA

The American Dialect Society -

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