If they give me more is OK

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On a billboard advertising an investment firm is a photo of a young-middle-aged guy described by Caroline Sams (on Twitter, 6 Nov 2012) as a "smug George Clooney look-alike" she'd like to punch. The slogan below his handsome twinkly-eyed unpunched face says:

I ask my team for 100%. If they give me more is OK too.

Another Twitter user asked if that second sentence isn't missing some commas or some extra words or something. But I think not. I think we have an incipient new construction here. I think this is an if-phrase used as subject of a clause in a way that isn't quite the same as anything I've seen before (I could be wrong). The semantic interpretation of if they give me more here has to be something like "for them to give me more".

A possibly analogous development was the emergence of the ‘[just because+Clause]+VP’ construction seen in Just because you're an atheist doesn't make you rational (Mark Steel article title, The Independent, 29 December 2011), or Just because I'm using Facebook doesn't mean I want in on every partnership they make (found on the web), or Coldplay's much-quoted song line Just because I'm losing doesn't mean I'm lost.

What both have in common is that an adjunct of a specific form (a conditional adjunct preposition phrase introduced by if in one case, and in the other an adjunct preposition phrase of reason head by because with an obligatory preceding adverb just) has been used as a subject.

In both cases, the form of words is tightly limited, not productive: we don't (yet) find *Only if they don't obey me is a problem (that doesn't sound potentially grammatical to me) or *Because you're an atheist doesn't make you rational (doesn't sound right without just) — though such developments may ensue. [In the latter case, they have actually begun to ensue: see the update at the end of the post.]

I think we might be seeing something of how constructions get born here. It's exciting. For syntacticians it's like observing the birth of a star. Well, almost: there's not so much fire and energy and megaquantities of superheated gas. Syntactic evolution is quiet, not dramatic. New forms for sentences slip in unannounced, possibly just through one person's creativity or error, and sometimes catch on, and maybe generalize after a generation or two, and hardly anybody notices. In the present case, the ‘[if+Clause]+VP’ construction, few seem to have noticed it so far. Possibly just me and one of Caroline Sams's followers on Twitter.

Or at least, I did think that we might be seeing the birth of a construction, before Breffni O'Rourke emailed me, a few minutes after I posted the above paragraphs, and pointed me to this article in Marketing Week, which had not turned up in my googling. It appears to reveal that the unpunched handsome face is the Portuguese manager of the Real Madrid soccer team, José Mário dos Santos Mourinho Félix, generally known (thank goodness) by the shorter handle José Mourinho. (My total lack of soccer knowledge let me down here: many sports fans would recognize him from the poster.) Apparently Mourinho's face "will feature in a global outdoor, press and digital campaign that will push Henderson as the 'other special manager'," on the grounds that "Andrew Formica, chief executive of Henderson Global Investors, says that Mourinho's management style matches its brand values." What Breffni suggests is that the slogan is not supposed to be grammatical; it's meant to be a sample of Mourinho's non-native English.

Could be. Especially since Mourinho's broken English is apparently a feature, not a bug, and can be seen on display elsewhere (e.g. the slogan on this picture, pointed out to me by Thomas Williams). But that would leave it as a mere coincidence that it was so easy for me to convince myself that I could see the construction as grammatical.

I should note that if there had been a comma after more, I would have treated the sentence as ungrammatical. The comma would identify more as the last word of the if-phrase, and that would make it clear that there is no subject of the main clause. (Modern written Standard English does not allow a comma between subject and predicate!) And dropping an it subject is a familiar error in English as imperfectly learned by speakers of languages like Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese.

It will be interesting to see if other if+Clause subjects turn up over the coming months and years, or whether this was just a one-off piece of Portuguese-influenced broken English in a single advertising campaign and it sinks without trace. As always, prediction is hard, especially about the future.

Update, 27 March 2012: I said I found the just obligatory in the just because examples. Not so for everyone. Scott Delancey found these examples for me on the web (clicking on an example takes you to its source page):

So it looks like I was wrong: bare because-phrases can be subjects too. (Memo to self: Always check, and then check some more.)

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