LINGUIST List 12.1858

Thu Jul 19 2001

Sum: Denotation of the "n-th Week of the Month/Year"

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  1. Gregor Erbach, Denotation of the "n-th Week of the Month/Year"

Message 1: Denotation of the "n-th Week of the Month/Year"

Date: Wed, 18 Jul 2001 19:09:43 +0200
From: Gregor Erbach <goracm.org>
Subject: Denotation of the "n-th Week of the Month/Year"

Here is a summary of responses to my question about the
denotation of expressions like "the first week of April"
or "the third week of this year".

Geoffrey Sampson (University of Sussex) and Gordon Brown 
(Microsoft) pointed out the ISO 8601 standard which defines 
the numbering of the weeks of the year. This is used mostly
in the commercial world.

Regarding the n-th week of the month, all respondents agreed
that there are no fixed rules, and even within one country,
such an expression can denote different time intervals. 

My personal interest was in constructing a speech dialogue
system for travel planning, where we fortunately have the
opportunity to initiate a clarification dialogue in such
cases.

Thanks to everybody who responded. The responses are reproduced
below.

regards,
 Gregor Erbach

####################################################################
From: "Daniel Buncic" (University of Bonn)

Probably you get a lot of answers from people who think they know what
"first week of the month" means. But I would like to point out that most
people probably do NOT know the exact meaning. Depending on context, it
might be clear. But when do you really need such an expression? You need
it when you make a calendar and you count the weeks of the year. Then, as
far as I have noticed, the week at the edge of the years seems to belong the
the year to which the majority of its days (i.e. at least four) belong. The
next question is: What day does a week begin with anyway? Sunday? Monday? The
only situations where weeks of a month are counted I can remember are
such: "X takes place every second and fourth Tuesday of a month." But these
are clear no matter what "first week of the month" means.

So please don't think that if you get an answer to this question from
someone from Hungary, this means that "in Hungarian" this definition is
part of the language ("langue", "competence"). I am German, and I would not
have agreed with your "German" definition. (In some months that begin on a
Sunday, Monday or Tuesday one might very well call that week the "first
week of the month", knowing e.g. that the person at the other end of the
telephone line has a calendar in front of themselves as well. But if the
month starts on a Thursday, I would use dates: "Let's go on holiday from
the 29th to the 4th.")

#######################################################################
From: Douglas Dee

You wrote: "I have heard claims that in the US the "first week"
is the period from the first day of the month until
the following Saturday"

I don't think this is accurate. If May began on Friday, surely no one
would say the "first week of May" consisted of Friday the 1st and
Saturday
the 2nd.

I don't believe there is any universally accepted rule in the US.

On a related note, in the US there is no agreement on when "next
Thursday" is. If today is Tuesday the 12th, some people say "next Thursday" 
is the 14th, but some say it's the 21st (while the 14th is "this Thrusday").
#########################################################################
From: David McDonald (Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories)

I can only give you my own impressions. I've never run across any
research on the question, though I should very much like to find some as I'm 
building a general computational model of time at the moment and this
sort of thing matters in the options for realization.

In my use of English and what I hear said, it is a matter of where the 
preponderance of the days lie. and the bias point. For this June, the
week that has Friday June first was called the "last week of May" around our 
house. When we get to July, the 31st will most likely lie in the "last
week of July" (it will definitely not be part of the first week of August".
For this August if there's perceived to be some doubt, say about the week
that holds the 7th, then the disambiguator "the first _full_ week of August" 
will be used.

In general I find that people are uncomfortable when talking about Nth 
weeks when they're looking at a calendar and trying to place these
partial weeks. They know it's not necessarily going to be clear and often they 
shift to terms that avoid the mention of weeks, e.g. "the end of July". 
However "the last week of August" will work fine (I heard it this
morning) even though it's Saturday is part of September.

Another differentiating point to consider is exactly when the week
starts, which is dictated/reinforced by the layout of the rows of days on the 
calendar. Any calendar I buy in the states (that's made here) positions 
Sunday in the first column as the first day of the week. Do you happen
to know how calendars in Muslim countries are laid out? As I recall the 
Sabbath starts on "Thursday" evening and I might expect calendars to
place Friday (the day of rest) in the rightmost column.

My kids (6 years old) believe the week definitively starts on Monday. 
Personally I find myself influenced by visualizations of the calendar
and have it start on Sunday.
######################################################################
From: "Gale, George" (Philosophy-Univ. of Missouri-Kansas City)

My usage of the term "first week" evidently refers to the top line on
the calendar of the month, so long as it contains a Friday! [Perhaps
this is because most American schools--of all levels--have tests on
Friday, hence, "there will be a test at the end of the first week" means
"on the Friday."] The difficult case is when the "first week" contains
only a Fri-Sat--does that count as a "first week"? My feeling is "no, it
doesn't count."

Hmmm. Glancing at the calendar on my wall, I see that June 01 contains
only a Fri-Sat. My first response is "that's not the first week".

But most certainly, "first week" usage does NOT require a complete week
M-F.
######################################################################

From: "Lynell R. Williams" (Idaho State University)

I can confirm that in the region of the US where I was raised (Northern
Midwest: Minnesota, to be specific), the "first week of April" would
mean the seven days beginning with April 1st. To refer specifically to
a Sunday to Monday week in that frame, the speaker would state "the
first full week of April." I have observed this to be the case also in
the region where I currently live (Intermountain West, USA) and a
colleague raised in the Southern USA indicates the same is true there.
On a related note, we have different conception of what "next Wednesday"
or "this Wednesday" might mean. E.g.: Speaking on a Sunday, if I say
"next Wednesday," my southern-raised colleague and my western neighbors
presume we are speaking of three days in the future, while I am in
actuality discussing a week beyond that. In the midwest "this
Wednesday" is the correct way to refer to the former. To compensate for
this difference in interpretation, I tend to speak with date markers
rather than time relationship markers.
#######################################################################
From: Karl Reinhardt 

In the US the expression *can* mean the first seven days in a month, or
it can mean the first full week; remember that in English the first day of
the week is Sunday and the last is Saturday. My partner, also American,
said that it could mean the first Monday through the following Sunday, since 
that's how he organizes his mental agenda. As to "the first day of the month 
until the following Saturday", it doesn't ring a bell at all.
#######################################################################
From: Elissavet Nouchoutidou (University of Athens)

In Greek, when we use the expression "First week of the month/year" we
mean either the first full week (the first seven days) or the period from 
the first day of the month till the first Saturday or Sunday. The
interpretation is mostly based on the context. There is also a problem
with the last day of the week, as you can see, because older people consider 
Saturday as the last day of the week (this has also to do with the fact that 
most Greeks are Orthodox) while younger people usually consider Sunday the 
last day of the week - yet this is not a standard.
########################################################################
From: Mady Katalin (TU Munich)

Zu der Umfrage: ich hatte vor einer halben Stunde ein Gespr�ch, in dem
mir jemand einen Termin vorschlagen wollte. Sie sagte "an dem Donnerstag
in der 2. Augustwoche", womit allerdings der 9. August, also der
Donnerstag der ersten vollen Augustwoche gemeint war. Ich w�rde eher
denken, dass der Ausdruck unklar ist. Ich h�tte sie garantiert an dem
16. August erwartet...
########################################################################
From: "A.F. GUPTA" (University of Leeds)

I am British, born in England in 1951, but living overseas 
(Singapore) from 1975-1996.

As far as I am concerned these expressions are approximations 
and don't therefore have correlates as precise as 'the first Sunday 
in April'. A week (informally) may 'begin' on a Saturday, a Sunday, 
or a Monday, making months or years beginning with one of those 
days unproblematic. If a month began on a Tuesday, or even a 
Wednesday, I could imagine referring to the first week in the month 
as that beginning on the Tue or the Wed., and ending on Fri, Sat or 
Sun. But in a month beginning on a Thursday or Friday (such as 
June 2001) I don't think I would talk about the first week of it.

The context of talk also varies. The 'week' may be all 7 days, or 
may only be Mon-Fri. When signing up to a new doctor in the UK 
you have to fill in a questionnaire about your lifestyle. I seem to 
remember this sequence of questions:

1. How many units of alcohol do you drink in a week?

2. How many units of alcohol do you drink in a weekend?

I don't think there is any hard and fast rule for approximations.
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