LINGUIST List 8.204

Tue Feb 11 1997

Disc: The English Future

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <seelylinguistlist.org>


Directory

  1. RPetterson, Re: 8.196, Disc: The English Future
  2. Steve Nicolle, English future
  3. benji wald, Re: 8.196, Disc: The English Future
  4. Leo Obrst, Re: 8.196, Disc: The English Future

Message 1: Re: 8.196, Disc: The English Future

Date: Mon, 10 Feb 1997 10:42:03 +1200
From: RPetterson <RPettersonipc.ac.nz>
Subject: Re: 8.196, Disc: The English Future

John Atkinson wrote:

>>P.S. what does "shall" mean? -- Benji
>
>Nothing. It doesn't exist in my dialect.
>

But "shall" surely has a distinct meaning and existence in questions that
are offers, e.g.

Shall we get a drink? (ie I will get us one if you want one - it is
interesting that we can use "will" in a similar sense in the affirmative
but not the interrogative...)

vs

Will we get a drink? (ie what did they way about giving us one?)

Rob Petterson
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Message 2: English future

Date: Mon, 10 Feb 1997 10:15:26 +0000 (GMT)
From: Steve Nicolle <s.nicollemdx.ac.uk>
Subject: English future

Benji Wald and John Atkinson highlight one area of difference between
WILL and GONNA/GOING TO as used in response to requests for action.
A further example may usefully illustrate this:

A: Can somebody visit John tomorrow?
B: I'll visit him.
B: I'm gonna visit him.

B's response with WILL suggests an intention to visit John
originating subsequent to A's request, although this is
pragmaticallly determined as it is cancellable:

B: I'll visit him - in fact I was already intending to.

In contrast, B's response with GONNA suggests an intention to visit
John originating prior to A's request. This is non-cancellable (in
British English at least) and therefore semantic (i.e linguistically
encoded by GONNA):

B: ? I'm gonna visit him - but I wasn't intending to.

I believe this is the result of "semantic retention" in GONNA,
whereby semantic nuances of the lexical source expression of GONNA
are recovered in certain contexts. GONNA derives from a source
expression meaning (roughly) 'the subject is in the process of
progressing towards a goal', and part of the progression in cases
like visiting somebody can be in the planning of a visit.

On the issue of whether English has a future tense, obviously if
tense is defined as morphological marking on the verb there isn't
one. If, however, tense is defined in terms of a form-function
mapping we get the following:
WILL - the form maps onto various functions, not all involving future
time reference;
SHALL - the form maps onto a purely future time function, but this
form is of restricted use (even in British English);
GONNA - this form clearly maps onto temporal reference as its
function; this is not strictly future in the sense of a time
subsequent to the time of utterance, but 'ulterior' - that is,
subsequent to some temporal reference point (not neccessarily the
time of utterance):

"She was gonna visit John two hours ago."

Here GONNA indicates that the event [She visit John] occurred or was
planned for two hours prior to the utterance time, or was envisaged
two hours ago as occurring at a time subsequent to then (so it may
already have occurred or it may not yet have occurred).
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Message 3: Re: 8.196, Disc: The English Future

Date: Mon, 10 Feb 1997 20:29:18 -0800 (PST)
From: benji wald <bwaldHUMnet.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Re: 8.196, Disc: The English Future

John Atkinson suggests:

>Q: "Who's gonna volunteer to bell the cat?" A: *"I do." "I will." "I'm gonna."

But let's look at the continuation.

Q: OK. Get the bell and go ahead
A: Hey, wait a minute. I said I'm GONNA volunteer. I haven't volunteered yet.

>>P.S. what does "shall" mean? -- Benji
Nothing. It doesn't exist in my dialect.

Tilt! If it doesn't exist in YOUR dialect, that doesn't mean it doesn't
mean anything, even to you. We all have some familiarity with other
dialects -- and televangelists. "As ye reap..." (Don't you like
Shakespeare? "By faith I shall, Kate, nay, I will!")

Elene: Koutsomitopoulou writes:

>(2) Tha pigaino sto sxoleio kathe mera (= i'll be going to school every
> day)

How do you translate "I will be gonna go to school everyday"?, and what
does it mean?
Or is there something in the theory of the distinction between "will" and
"be gonna" that explains why you "can't" say this in English?

Also, can you say "I'll be knowing that soon"? What about in Greek? Does
it have to be iterative?

David Harris writes:
> ..as an amateur
>linguist, I find all such arguments nit-picky and non-productive. If you'll
>pardon my candor, this is the kind of stuff that makes non-linguists think
>linguists are elitist know-it-alls.

That misses the point about the adaptibility of language to "new"
situations, regardless of what it reveals about "linguists". A situation
does not have to be familiar for a speaker to *try* to describe it in
words.

>A language belongs to all its speakers,
>and if the majority of speakers determine that "will" or "shall" mark the
>future tense, then that's the way it is."

Reverse snobbism? The majority are/is not always right in their opinions,
sometimes they defer to elite authority, esp for unimportant issues such as
the above, and with respect to "future tense" they may not even know what
they're talking about -- any more than we linguists do.

 The moral of the story is that "future tense" does not belong to the
speakers of ANY language. They respectfully decline the gift. (No place
to put it. -- Oh, here's some space on my shelf of curiosities.)

- Benji
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Message 4: Re: 8.196, Disc: The English Future

Date: Tue, 11 Feb 97 07:18:21 EST
From: Leo Obrst <bvel11phoney.he.boeing.com>
Subject: Re: 8.196, Disc: The English Future

Murvet Enc has a good paper on this subject in The Handbook
of Contemporary Semantic Theory, Shalom Lappin, ed., Blackwell,
Cambridge, 1996, entitled "Tense and Modality". In the paper
she (convincingly, to this reader) argues that "will" patterns
with other future-shifting modals and does not indicate a future
tense. That English has only one tense, the past, is her general
conclusion.

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