The New York Times published an article today about efficiency in the workplace. The book is called The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss. This is what Po Bronson had to say about it:
'“It’s not saying the ‘20-Hour Workweek,’” Mr. Bronson explained. “That would be something that lots of people can live. It’s 40 hours a week versus four. It’s very important in the tech world that consequences are exponential, not geometrical.”'
So what does he mean? Does he mean that in the tech world, concequences are defined as being exponential, not geometric (declarative reading)? Or that the tech world isn't going to care unless the consequences are exponential (subjunctive reading)?
Now, if English still had a subjunctive in regular use, I would know: if he meant this subjuctively he would have said "It’s very important in the tech world that consequences be exponential, not geometrical." Since he didn't, this is declarative. Unfortunately, I think he might actually have intended this to be read subjunctively.
Now, I know what you're thinking: wait a minute, aren't linguists supposed to be all desciptivist and shun prescriptivism? Well, to that I say two things:
1. I come from an intensely prescriptivist background. It's not that easy to throw off, you know!
2. The main reason I'm posting this is to talk about language change. What happens when a change causes confusion? Doesn't it usually ultimately fail? Or, something comes in to take its place?
It seems to me that the loss of the subjunctive is too far along to reverse itself. Once language change gets going in earnest, there doesn't seem to be any stopping it. But if situations like this keep coming up, where I can't figure out from context which of two ambiguous meanings was intended, can we expect to see something come in to take its place? Maybe a slightly awkward injection of a modal, like "It’s very important in the tech world that consequences should be exponential, not geometrical"?