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Author Topic: Subjunctive in 'gif' clauses  (Read 11810 times)

Horsa

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Subjunctive in 'gif' clauses
« on: February 23, 2011, 11:43:34 AM »
I'm having problems wrapping my head around the subjunctive. I kind of assumed it was always used for 'gif' clauses - they present counterfactual information - but that appears not to be the case.

Is there a rule that corresponds to modern English conditionals?

The reason I ask is I'm trying to translate a phrase into Old English. The phrase is 'if you're going through hell, keep going." Now, I'm aware of the obvious translation problem that 'to go through hell' is an idiom meaning 'to have a thoroughly rotten time', but I'm not too concerned about that. I don't mind translating it literally to something a mediaeval English person would understand as "If you are walking through the land of the dead, continue on your journey."

This is what I've got so far.


"Ȝif þú ȝǽst / ȝá þurh helle, þurhƿuna on þínum ȝanȝe."
or
"Gif þú gǽst / gá þurh helle, þurhwuna on þínum gange."

One solitary example sentence in Bosworth & Toller suggests "Gif þú gǽst / gá þurh helle, þurhwuna gánde."


(I love the yoghs and wynns. if you're going to keep the thorns ashes and eths, why discriminate against the yoghs and wynns?)

Linden

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Re: Subjunctive in 'gif' clauses
« Reply #1 on: February 23, 2011, 03:32:01 PM »
I'm having problems wrapping my head around the subjunctive. I kind of assumed it was always used for 'gif' clauses - they present counterfactual information - but that appears not to be the case.

Is there a rule that corresponds to modern English conditionals?.......................


Specifically - regarding "gif" and the subjunctive or indicative :-
Bosworth & Toller - Dictionary Addendum
"gif.
The indicative after gif implies the certain occurrence of a circumstance, the reality of a state etc."  http://lexicon.ff.cuni.cz/html/oe_bosworthtoller/d0462.html

I think it goes something like this:-
Indicative
If cow's eat grass, it is because their digestion is suited to it.
....versus optional indicative/subjunctive
If cows eat bitter herbs, it is because their digestion is bad.
.....versus a definite subjunctive
If cows (were to) eat meat, they would get indigestion
Hope I have got this right and that it helps a bit. 

More generally on the subjunctive you may/might/will? find these useful

"The subjunctive mood generally signals that the action or state specified by the verb is the object of a wish, a hope, or a fear, a command or request, a conjecture, belief or hypothesis, or is for some other reason unreal."
http://www.ucalgary.ca/uofc/eduweb/engl401/lessons/infipart.htm


"The choice between subjunctive and indicative may often be a matter of individual preference or rhetorical emphasis."
http://www.wmich.edu/medieval/resources/IOE/inflverb.html


"Sometimes it is impossible to tell the subjunctive from the indicative. In the first-person singular present, both the subjunctive and the indicative end in ­e, and in the past tense of strong verbs the subjunctive and the indicative are identical in the second-person singular. In late Old English the subjunctive plural ending was written ­on instead of ­en, making it identical with the indicative plural in the past tense. In such cases you should resist the temptation to guess whether a verb is indicative or subjunctive. Rather, wherever you can't distinguish mood it simply doesn't exist. "
http://faculty.virginia.edu/OldEnglish/courses/handouts/Subjunctive.html
(Has a lot of the same content as the previous example)




Cræft biþ betere ðonne æhta

Deorca

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Re: Subjunctive in 'gif' clauses
« Reply #2 on: February 23, 2011, 03:35:32 PM »
A quick scan of BT, there is the following explanation as an additional under the entry for 'gif' -

"introducing a conditional clause. The indicative after gif implies the certain occurrence of a circumstance, the reality of a state, &c., spoken of in the clause, admits the truth of the statement contained in the clause."

I haven't got my Syntax to hand, but I've been meaning to look this up for a while. I always saw the subjunctive as dispensing with the need for a 'gif' (or vice versa), but the above entry in BT makes a nice distinction, I think.

As to what you've got, I'd go with subj if it's sort of general advice, tho of course context could determine that the person saying it knows very well that the person they're talking to is in trouble. You could even dispense with the 'gif' and just use the subj.

Gá þú þurh helle, þurhwuna ..
or
Gif þú gá þurh helle ..

Jim

Horsa

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Re: Subjunctive in 'gif' clauses
« Reply #3 on: February 23, 2011, 11:14:36 PM »
Oh of course! B&T. Why didn't I think of that.

I'm glad I didn't, though. This is great information. Thanks Deorca and Linden. I really like this:


"The choice between subjunctive and indicative may often be a matter of individual preference or rhetorical emphasis."
http://www.wmich.edu/medieval/resources/IOE/inflverb.html


I just printed out the entry for 'gif' from B&T; it's 2 and a bit pages long, and it seems like in describing the different instances of it's use, the writers got a bit frustrated.  I get the feeling that the use of the subjunctive is very slippery. It may have changed through the pre conquest period. Perhaps there are scribal errors, perhaps towards the end there are grammatical 'errors' of a 'between you and I' nature, especially in the list of examples of this type: "Agif. . . ; gif þú . . . aldres réce . . . þú sweltan scealt . . . , gif þú wyrnest, Gen. 2654 - 2660: here the certainty seems to belong rather to réce than to wyrnest."

Perhaps it can be used as a courtesy formula. For example:  Gif cyning æt mannes hám drincæð and þǽr man lyswæs hwæt gedó. Ll. Th. i. 4, 1-2; here the entertainment of the king is an event sure to take place, so drincæð is indicative; but the wrong-doing is quite uncertain, so gedó is subjunctive.

Perhaps the wrongdoing is uncertain, or perhaps it's undesirable? Perhaps the writer of the laws didn't want to 'talk it up'.


"introducing a conditional clause. The indicative after gif implies the certain occurrence of a circumstance, the reality of a state, &c., spoken of in the clause, admits the truth of the statement contained in the clause."


Going from this, in my sentence, I'm wondering if I have a choice of the indicative or subjunctive. Perhaps indicative means this: 'In the very probable event that you go through hell (it's an idiom in modern English, you know)' or 'when you go through hell'; and subjunctive means - "if you were to go through hell (but that'll never happen, I'm an atheist and hell doesn't exist)'

Deorca

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Re: Subjunctive in 'gif' clauses
« Reply #4 on: February 24, 2011, 09:04:52 AM »
Quote
Going from this, in my sentence, I'm wondering if I have a choice of the indicative or subjunctive. Perhaps indicative means this: 'In the very probable event that you go through hell (it's an idiom in modern English, you know)' or 'when you go through hell'; and subjunctive means - "if you were to go through hell (but that'll never happen, I'm an atheist and hell doesn't exist)'
As you've noted, the use is kind of slippery, and there are all kinds of ways of justifying a particular usage based on its context and what the writer 'might' have been wanting to say. Note, though, that you're now giving yourself a choice between two definite and polarised cases ("You will go through hell, and when you do.." i.e. indicative, or "You won't go through hell, but if you did.." i.e. subjunctive). But there's also the 'everything in between' case which, to me, is the essence of the subjunctive, that is the uncertainty expressed in "You may or may not go through hell, but if it happens that you do..." and that whole thought I think is expressed by the concise use of the subjunctive.

Jim

Iohannes

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Re: Subjunctive in 'gif' clauses
« Reply #5 on: February 25, 2011, 08:29:36 AM »
This topic is very interesting. I've tried to look up the conditional sentences in Mitchell/Robinson and report here but, to tell you the truth, the exposition isn't very clear there, though it broadly agrees with your posts above. When (When???  >:() I have time to go through that, I'll try to systematize and explain it here.

Meanwhile, I came across this downloadable book on www.archive.com:

MATHER, FJ, The Conditional Sentence in Anglo-Saxon, D C Wolf & Sohn, Munich, 1893

http://www.archive.org/details/conditionalsente00math

I've just downloaded it and I hope - but, knowing myself, I really doubt  :-[ - I can read it soon.

Bye for now

Iohannes

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Re: Subjunctive in 'gif' clauses
« Reply #6 on: February 25, 2011, 01:44:41 PM »
Sorry, I found out that the book I downloaded is handwritten and hardly legible. So I found the following link to a printed version:

 http://www.archive.org/details/cu31924027343304

I hope you'll enjoy it.

Deorca

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Re: Subjunctive in 'gif' clauses
« Reply #7 on: February 25, 2011, 02:24:10 PM »
Nice link, leof! I'll also have a read through it ... errr ... when I get time. Whenever that may be.  ;)

Jayson

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Re: Subjunctive in 'gif' clauses
« Reply #8 on: February 26, 2011, 04:41:30 PM »
---if it's the same as in modern English (well, fairly modern English), I was taught that the subjunctive came after 'iffing, wishing, commanding' and I've found the following on the Net:

•the verbs: ask, command, demand, insist, propose, recommend, request, suggest + that
•the expressions: it is desirable, essential, important, necessary, vital + that
Wessex Woman

Horsa

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Re: Subjunctive in 'gif' clauses
« Reply #9 on: March 01, 2011, 07:22:07 PM »
Jayson, that's how I have been working with the subjunctive, but it's not the best idea to assume that the subjunctive would work the same way in what is effectively a different language, which is why I asked here, and I'm glad I did.

I seem to have lost my two sheets of A4 on which I had the B&T entry for 'gif', but that link to the book is very good, thanks so much Iohannes.

I'm up to page 13, and I've learnt that 'gif' clauses take the subjunctive if the main clause is a command. So, you're right, Jayson, about the commanding and the wishing too, though I've not got to that bit yet. But, not all iffing gets its subjunctive, and those are the rules I wanted to figure out.


féd þonne mín scéap, gif þú mé lufige.
"If you love me, feed my sheep" (I like this one)


gif þú godes sunu sý, cwed þæt þás stánas tó hláfe gewurðon.
"If thou be God's son, command that these stones become bread."


onsend Higeláce gif mec hild nime, beaduscrúda betst, þæt míne bréost wered. Beowulf 452
"Send to Hygelac, if death take me, the best of war-coats, that protects my breast."

The book claims that these are not very subjunctive or hypothetical, though I can't really see that, but it is in contrast to the Latin, apparently, where you'd use the indicative. Example two is Satan talking to Jesus, and the book says that it's unlikely that Satan would doubt the divinity of Christ, or if he did, formality would require the indicative, that they use the subjunctive suggests it's a hard and fast rule.

There are occasions where OE writers have used the indicative rather than the subjunctive but the book suggests that they are sticking too close to the Latin originals.

Anyway, compare with:

Ac hé mé habban wile dréore fáhne, gif mec déað nimeþ. beowulf 446
"but he'll have me gore-splattered, if death takes me."
That's the first conditional right? It's iffing but no subjunctive. The conditionals come later in the book though. Watch this space.

I was a bit worried that this book is so old, but then again it's far newer than B&T, and it beats the subjunctive sections in my various OE books.

I'm going to do some practice using this structure.

I included my own translations, so that if I'm very wide of the mark you can correct me if you fancy.

Also, tell me to shut up if posting a summary of what I've learnt so far is not appropriate. I thought that, as well as being instructive for me, it might be helpful for those too busy to plough through that sluggish PDF file

Ooh, hang on, that's a command with an if. Let's have a go (in 3rd person of course):

Hátaþ hine swígan, gif hé sende gewritu þe ne sindon gedafenu.

Horsa

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Re: Subjunctive in 'gif' clauses
« Reply #10 on: March 10, 2011, 09:28:31 PM »
Further summary of the book on the subjunctive.

The simple or logical condition (Zero and first conditionals?)

This takes the indicative in both the protasis and apodosis.

Ex.,
Swa mære ge beoð swa swa englas, gif ge of þam treowe etað
You'll be as great as angels, if you eat from that tree.

Gif se blinda þone blindan læt, he feallað began on ænne pytt
If the blind lead the blind, they both will fall in a pit.


However, and this goes back to what Deorca was saying, if the word order is inverted in the simple or logical condition, the protasis (if clause), does not need if, and the verb is in the subjunctive.

Ex.,
Gewite þæt ungesewenlice ut, þonne fylð adune þæt gesewenlice, forðan þe hit ne stod na ær þurh hit sylf.
If the invisible goes out, then the visible will fall down, because it has never stood up by itself.

Gewite seo sawul ut, ne mæg se muð clypian, þeah þe he gynige, ne eage geseon, þeah þe hit open sy: ne nan him ne deð nan þing.
if the soul goes out, the mouth will not be able call, though it may gape; nor the eye see, though it may open: nor may anyone be able to do anything for him.


The author theorised that the subjunctive is used here, because when the OE invert the word order, they clip the verb so that it looks like the subjunctive.


« Last Edit: March 11, 2011, 04:46:50 PM by Horsa »