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I'm reading Cory Doctorow's Eastern Standard Tribe. He keeps using a sentence construction that I have never seen before:

"...my poor pineal gland has all but forgotten how to do its job without that I drown it in melatonin precursors."

"No one down there is going to notice me all the way up here, not without that I give them a sign."

As this occurs several times throughout the novel, it's clearly intentional, not a one-off error. However, I can't recall ever having read "without that" + [clause] before. To me, the sentences feel like they should read "...without my/me drowning it... and "...without my/me giving them a sign."

I was curious about this, and it turned out to be difficult to Google fruitfully, so I thought I'd see if anyone here knows: Where does this construction come from, and why is he using it? Is this a dialectal thing, and if so, what varieties of English can use it? In short: What's going on here?

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I've never read him, but I rather suspect Doctorow is simply using quirky/archaic style here for the sake of "exotic" effect. I base that solely on the fact that the term "melatonin precursors" wouldn't even have existed when "without that" was an unexceptional alternative to "unless". –  FumbleFingers Jul 3 '12 at 2:01
    
@FumbleFingers Cory Doctorow is one of those sci-fi writers who tends to get very technical. And like a lot of sci-fi/fantasy writers he may adapt a peculiar turn of phrase food a particular character. (Which is what I suspect happened here.) Another example of this is The Knife of Never Letting Go. The main character narrates and he is uneducated, which is evident in the way he tries to pronounce long words. –  shachna Jul 5 '12 at 19:27
    
@shachna: It sounds like you're familiar with his writing. I already had suspicions in that direction, and am starting to regret "exotic" effect above, and just a Cory Doctorow idiosyncracy in my actual answer. If ELU were "Lit. Crit." I should probably have been saying "Brilliant writing style! We can all learn from this!". But many ELU visitors are effectively first-year ESL students, and it would be better for them to learn *today's usage before worrying about how skilled writers can exploit such subtle nuances. –  FumbleFingers Jul 5 '12 at 21:40
    
...can't resist adding - if you like the way Doctorow is sensitive to how his language "register" relates to the narrative itself, and you don't already know Russel's Hoban's Riddley Walker, put that down in your "must read" list! I just hope we don't get a slew of questions here asking about Hoban's choice of phrasing/spelling! –  FumbleFingers Jul 5 '12 at 21:45
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3 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

It's just archaic English grammar, like using thou or sayeth. Like English spelling, it's correct, for an earlier version of the language.

That is a complementizer that marks a Tensed Subordinate Clause in English. It used to be able to appear in any kind of tensed subordinate clause -- noun clauses, adjective clauses, or adverb clauses -- as long as they have a subject, and a verb in the present or past tense.

This is still true for noun clauses (object and subject complement clauses), and for adjective clauses (restrictive relative clauses and NP complements), but not for adverbial clauses like unless I go with you.

but

(That is normally optional, though under certain conditions it is required. In the above, optional that is parenthesized. Probably it was optional for Chaucer, who was a poet and needed a handy store of optional syllables. Just like Cory Doctorow, at least in that respect.)

The that in Chaucer's Prologue is not a demonstrative that -- Which April? That April, or the other one? -- rather, it's filling the slot where one used to mark a tensed time adverb clause, right after the wh-word that indicates time.

And the same goes for unless, which introduces a counterfactual conditional clause, also adverbial. We just don't do that any more with adverbial clauses in Modern English, so doing it is an affectation. Which is pretty typical of Cory Doctorow.

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Both answers are very helpful - upvoting both and accepting this one just because it's got more explanation. Thank you! –  alcas Jul 3 '12 at 18:17
    
I must admit I hadn't fully taken on board exactly what OP was asking here. I thought it was all about the use of "without" in a context where we'd normally use "unless" today. But in fact his specific issue seems to be with the word "that", so I think I'll amend my answer to reflect that you've covered that one nicely. Excellent example from Chaucer! –  FumbleFingers Jul 5 '12 at 21:56
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At first I thought maybe this might be a Canadian regionalism, but apparently not. It's an archaism used by Cory Doctorow to convey exotic, other-wordly overtones. Here are instances from several centuries ago, back when it was current...

...ye shall never depart from this city without that I go with you. (note the "ye" - it really is old!)

...in 1463...no merchant...should sell wool...without that he accept "ready payment".

Today, the standard phrasing is "...unless I go with you". As regards the specifics of including the word "that" after "without", @John Lawler has provided the canonical answer.

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It is not a Canadian regionalism. –  JAM Jul 3 '12 at 19:37
    
@JAM: In 1985, American poet and novelist George Garrett (1929-2008) published a collection of short stories called An Evening Performance. In it, farmer Ed Cartwright complains "...they can come tramping across my land just any damn time they feel like it, without I give an invitation first." –  FumbleFingers Jul 3 '12 at 20:27
    
...which is just by way of saying the form does occur occasionally even in recent decades (though I think including the word "that" is probably far less likely now than a few centuries ago). Anyway, I never really thought Canadians would turn out to be that far behind the times! OP's instance seems to be just Doctorow playing with the juxtaposition between this very old phrasing and the up-to-the-minute term "melatonin precursors". To make his characters "quirkily interesting", I imagine. –  FumbleFingers Jul 3 '12 at 20:33
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The following article sheds a little more light on this question:

Recategorization of Prepositions as Complementizers: The Case of Temporal Prepositions in English

According to the author, without that is found "well into the 19th century (and dialectally into the 20th)". Certain Southeastern dialects of American English still permit constructions such as 'They never came to church without that they brought their bibles'.

As an aside it may be worth pointing out that without that, rather than the gerund, is the standard construction in languages such as German (ohne dass) and Italian (senza che).

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