Saturday 8 December 2007

On and after if

A US correspondent writes to ask if I've come across modern dialect variations in if/then clauses, especially in Early Middle English. He cites If you go and I'll go meaning 'If you go, then I'll go' and biblical-sounding cases such as If he should command the stone to move, and it will move.

A linking adverbial use of and is certainly attested in Early Modern English, with a range of meanings such as 'therefore, and so, then' - an example from Shakespeare is 'Tis a good dullness, And give it way' (Tempest). I can't think of an instance after an if-clause, offhand - maybe a reader of this blog will dig one out.

These conjunctions shifted meaning a lot in Middle English, so that there are all kinds of overlaps. For instance, the overlap in meaning between if and and is well attested in Early Modern English, especially in initial position: 'An't be not four by the day, I'll be hanged' (Henry IV Part 1), 'I'll tell you when, and you'll tell me wherefore' (Comedy of Errors). Compare also 'so it please you / if it please you / and it please you', which we find throughout the period - as early as 1205, according to the OED.

I wouldn't be at all surprised to find the usage still around in modern English dialects. Uses of and as a subordinating conjunction have some interesting parallels with Celtic languages. The first place I'd look would be Irish English, where you can still hear today such sentences as There was lots of land for sale and I a young lad meaning 'when I was a young lad'. Anyone heard an if... and construction out there recently? Or anywhere else?


Anonymous said...

Is this an adverbial use of "and" - at the beginning of sentence, stressed and emphasized in speech and followed by a pause, meaning "finally", or "besides" or "if that was not enough"?
E.g.: This theory is wrong because (...). Also, the premises are falsifiable (...). And, one must not forget that (...).

DC said...

I don't think so. This is simply the conjunction being used with deliberative emphasis. There's a difference with the also of the preceding sentence: also can alter its position in the sentence; and can't. It would be a bad move to allow intonation and pause to influence our decision-making about word classes. Virtually any word can be emphasized in some way.