Saturday, January 31, 2009

If you...then it

President Obama said in an interview with CNN (I think at the time this was President-elect Obama), "If you think about the journey that this country has made, then it can't help but stir your heart." However much I may agree with his sentiment, I can't help but be put off by the phrasing.

I think the problem for me is the use of "then". With if-then sentences, I seem to want the subjects to be coreferential. Without "then" they don't need to be at all. "If you can't help..." sounds fine to me. But "If you...then it" strikes me as off somehow. As far as I know there's no prescriptivist rule regarding anything like this. In fact, I'm sure prescriptivists would always want us to include the "then", citing some nonsense about ambiguity or form. It's not "then" I have a problem with either, because "If you eat now, then you won't be hungry later" is fine, because the subjects are coreferential. But for some reason my language faculty doesn't like non-coreferential if-then sentences with an explicity subordinator. It's a mystery.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ah I'm delighted I stumbled across this! Whenever I hear an example of this, I cringe inside! I think you're correct, it's about coreferentiality...I'd never examined it like that before. Right now I'm an English teacher and armchair linguist I guess, but I'm starting my graduate studies in linguistics this fall. I look forward to reading more of your blogs!