LINGUIST List 8.153

Sat Feb 1 1997

Disc: The English Future

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Joseph F Foster, Re: 8.147, Disc: English Future (from Ebonics)

Message 1: Re: 8.147, Disc: English Future (from Ebonics)

Date: Sat, 01 Feb 1997 08:04:19 -0500 (EST)
From: Joseph F Foster <Joseph.FosterUC.Edu>
Subject: Re: 8.147, Disc: English Future (from Ebonics)

	In short, there is no English Future. I join Carl Mills'
expression of dismay at the continued confusion of semantics and
syntax~morphology. I presume that by "future tense markers" Mr. Anderson
in the "Ebonics" <--?it's a foolish word as Black English has nothing to
do with "phonics"--do we HAVE to use it?) post meant things like 'will' or
'shall' in 'My train will leave at 6.' There is no more reason to call
the modal 'will' a tense marker and to call 'will leave' THE English
future tense than there is to call any of the following such forms
	My train can leave at 6.
		 dare not

I wonder what the "tense" is in 'My train might can leave at six.', which
is perfectly good Ozark and Appalachian English (now being called
"Hill-billy Bonics" in Cincinnati!). Indeed, since 'My train leaves at
six tonight.' is perfectly good English in all standard dialects, and it
is synonymous or nearly so with 'MY train will leave at 6 tonite.', I
presume 'leaves' is a future tense, and {-s} is an English 'future tense
marker?! Of course not. If 'tense' is to be used fast and loose in this
way, then it means nothing and does no useful work for us. English has a
PAST TENSE 'left', an AORIST, or GENERAL NONPAST TENSE 'leaves', and a
whole passel of modal and semimodal (need, dare, ought...) auxiliaries.

Why does it matter? After all, I dont know of any language in which people
cant talk about the future. If Linguistics is about language, it matters
because Latin verbs (which have several real tenses) and English verbs
(which have only one, or two at most) simply dont work alike. If of course
Linguistics is NOT about language but about something else, then I suppose
linguistic facts arent data, and descriptive accuracy doesnt matter. 

Joe Foster
	Joseph F Foster
	Assoc. Professor of Anthropology
	University of Cincinnati 45221-0380
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