LINGUIST List 4.765

Tue 28 Sep 1993

Disc: Shall

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. , R.I.P. shall
  2. mmackenz, Re: 4.751 Shall
  3. John Goldsmith, Re: 4.751 Shall
  4. Gary Coen, Shall as an Illocutionary Act?

Message 1: R.I.P. shall

Date: Sun, 26 Sep 93 13:18:28 EDR.I.P. shall
From: <>
Subject: R.I.P. shall

A minor note on the passing of "shall", which, if not dead, is clearly
being kept alive only by heroic intervention.

I noted Linda Coleman's posting especially. I'd wondered when somebody
was going to mention "Shall we ..?" and "Shall I ...?". The latter,
however, is - in my experience - significantly less common than the
former, and I believe there's a reason. What we actually hear in normal
uses of modals is an unstressed syllable, and it's usually subject to
considerable phonological reduction in English (witness "can't" /kae'n/ vs.
can /kE'n/ or [unstressed] /kn/).

So what this is more likely to be than /shae'lwi/ or /shae'lay/ is
/shwi'/ or /shlay'/. The latter is unambiguous as a representation
of "shall I", and it sounds - to my 51-year-old Midwestern US ear - as
higher register than I normally like to invoke in ordinary spoken
English, which is to say "odd". The former, however, I use frequently,
and recognize others as using frequently. Note that /shwi'/ is in fact
ambiguous, and *could* represent "should we" as well as "shall we".
I submit that its ambiguity represents a merger of "shall" and "should"
in this function, another sign of shall's impending demise. Modals don't
die rapidly, however.

No doubt "shall" will linger on for decades or centuries, like "dare" and
"need", and get together at the Old Modals' Home for chats about
the old days. The fact is that old modals never die, they just become
negative polarity items.

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Message 2: Re: 4.751 Shall

Date: Mon, 27 Sep 1993 00:12:10 Re: 4.751 Shall
From: mmackenz <>
Subject: Re: 4.751 Shall

Leslie Morgan mentions that her use of 'shall' is due in part to influence
from her NOrth Carolina mother. My mother was also from North Carolina
(Charlotte) so perhaps my usage could come from a similar source. I
grew up in East Tennessee (near Knoxville), but do not know if East
Tennesseans also use shall/shan't. I suspect not, but does anyone els
out there know for sure?

Mike MacKenzie
Indiana University, Bloomington
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Message 3: Re: 4.751 Shall

Date: Mon, 27 Sep 93 12:19:35 GMRe: 4.751 Shall
From: John Goldsmith <>
Subject: Re: 4.751 Shall

I have noticed myself using "shall" for years, and I thought
someone else would post the conditions for its use that fit
my behavior, but no one has. In short, it's a marker of deference.
"Shall I go get the groceries?" is something I'd naturally
say to a much older person; I don't use it in a non-inverted
or negated context. (To an equal, not in a deferential
category, I'd say "should I go get the groceries", but
that would normally be pronounced "[shay] go get the groceries.")
John Goldsmith
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Message 4: Shall as an Illocutionary Act?

Date: Mon, 27 Sep 93 10:57:33 EDShall as an Illocutionary Act?
From: Gary Coen <>
Subject: Shall as an Illocutionary Act?

As numerous LINGUIST list subscribers have affirmed, _shall_ seems
neither dead nor moribund in contemporary English usage. My midwestern
dialect puts me among the speakers that Linda Coleman (LINGUIST 4.751)
identifies as using _shall_ to formulate interrogatives (e.g., "Shall
we get started now?"). As she points out, these questions convey more
than a simple request for information.

In my dialect, _shall_ seems to be marked as a first person modal, and
this is consistent with most of the data I have seen in this thread.
There remains, of course, the possibility that this is more an artifact
of undergraduate grammar and rhetoric than a shared behaviour of a
somewhat heterogeneous speech community located in rural central Iowa.

Interestingly, in the last couple of years I have learned that certain
government documents (e.g. DoD requests for proposal and contracts)
distinguish strictly and systematically between their usage of _shall_
and non-marked terms like _will_, _should_, etc. In these documents,
_shall_ invariably conveys specific, scheduled contract requirements,
and the other non-marked synonomous terms are not used in this way. I
am not aware of a precursor to this semantic distinction. Further,
this marked usage of _shall_ always occurs in the third person. Perhaps
_shall_ has a future as an illocutionary act.

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