LINGUIST List 8.252

Fri Feb 21 1997

Disc: Future Tense (was The English Future)

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <annlinguistlist.org>


Directory

  1. Waruno Mahdi, Disc: The English Future
  2. phi95kal, The future tense
  3. Alison Huettner, Meaning of "shall"

Message 1: Disc: The English Future

Date: Tue, 18 Feb 1997 20:25:27 +0100
From: Waruno Mahdi <mahdifhi-berlin.mpg.de>
Subject: Disc: The English Future

 
I'd like to add something to the very interesting comparative stuff
from Italian, which Ivan Birk contributed in Vol-8-229 #2:

> The notion of futurity is however often expressed using the present.
> This is unexceptional, and unsurprising since contextual parameters
> make this possible.
>
> eg. Parto! (I'm leaving)

It can sometimes even be expressed by the PAST, as in Russian:

_poehali!_ "let's get going, let's be on our way!" (lit. "we-went!")

_no poSe"l ya_ "well then, I'll be going [now]" (lit. "but I-went I")

 where _h_ is a velar fricative, _S_ is "sh", _e_ is prepalatalized,
 and _e"_ is (in this example) pronounced as if it were _o_.

And, I believe, in some dialects of English it is possible to say

_I'm gone now_ for "I'll be gone now, I'm going now".

> What is slightly more surprising is the fact that the future in
> Italian is often used in modal, or even concessive contexts.
>
> e.g. Dov'e' Giovanni? (Where is John?)
> Bo' Sara' a scuola. (I don't know...He'll be/ must be at school)
>
> e.g. Sarai' pure ricco, ma non voglio i tuoi regali. (You may (well)
> be rich, but I don't want your presents)
>
> Is it possible that it is the notion of future 'tense' which is
> bizarre, rather than the way English deals with futurity?

This reminds me of some languages of Melanesia, where the opposition
REALIS / IRREALIS is rather prominent. The wonderfully "bizarre"
features you mention would, I think, immediately cease being bizarre
when one says "irrealis" instead of "future".

But sometimes I think, melanesianists wouldn't be talking of
"irrealis" if knowledge of the languages they studied had been just as
established as it is with English and Italian. The difference seems to
me to lie in the fact, that grammatical terms in long known languages
were made before linguists started running grammar through the logical
meat-chopper. Melanesian languages were less fortunate, so their
grammatical categories get less romantic names, They are the victims
of linguists being strictly logical in their descriptive essays.

Trouble is, human language is human, and the main common denominator
of "humanness" seems to be to err. We can require logic from machine
language, but I don't think we may do so with regard to human
language. Human language is not the fruit of deliberations of a
planning committee, but the net result of millennia and millennia of
spontaneous unregulated development. Thus, in English we may find the
passive

 _he is called Peter_,

where in French one employs the reflexive

 _il s'appel Pierre_ ("he calls himself Peter"),

and Russian let's the subject become the object with

 _ego zovut Pe"tr_ ("him they-call Peter"),

while German, otherwise always good for syntactical sophistications,
surprises us with a refreshingly straightforward

 _er heisst Peter_ ("he X-s Peter", where X is a verb
 expressing "the being called" in
 the active voice).

In Indonesian, incidentally, we say

 _ia nama-nya Petrus_ ("he name his Peter").

In Russian one says: _mne nravitsya_ ("to-me it-likes-itself"),
in Italian it is: _mi piaci_ ("me it-pleases"),
for sensible English: _I like it_

By the same logic, by which we questioned the correctness of the term
"future" above, we may now ask ourselves whether there is such a thing
as "reflexive" or "passive". But was it not Sapir who remarked, that
"all grammars leak"? Being a bit chaotic is, I think, an immanent
feature of human language, which I'm sure none of us would like to
exchange for the unimaginative logic of one-track-minded machine
language.

I find, that modern linguistics has long ago come up with adequate
logical instruments for treating such products of prolonged
spontaneous historical process as are real-world human languages. One
could use such concepts as "underlying" and "surface" features, or
speak of "core" and "periphereal" phenomena, or of successive steps of
symbolization. In short, there is some basic meaning "future", which
may find itself reflected in a myriad of concrete implementations, in
some of which it may not be quite so "future" anymore, and yet by some
twist of human association not be quite totally "unfuture"?

Regards, Waruno



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Waruno Mahdi tel: +49 30 8413-5301/-5408
Faradayweg 4-6 fax: +49 30 8413-3155
14195 Berlin email: mahdifhi-berlin.mpg.de
Germany WWW: http://w3.rz-berlin.mpg.de/~wm/
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Message 2: The future tense

Date: Wed, 19 Feb 1997 12:52:58 +0100 (MEZ)
From: phi95kal <phi95kalstudserv.uni-leipzig.de>
Subject: The future tense



Ivan Burks wrote> 

> What is slightly more surprising is the fact that the future in
> Italian is often used in modal, or even concessive contexts.
> 
> e.g. Dov'e' Giovanni? (Where is John?)
> Bo' Sara' a scuola. (I don't know...He'll be/ must be at school)
> 
> e.g. Sarai' pure ricco, ma non voglio i tuoi regali. (You may (well)
> be rich, but I don't want your presents)
> 
> Is it possible that it is the notion of future 'tense' which is
> bizarre, rather than the way English deals with futurity> 

Perhaps part of the problem here is that it is often expected that the
grammatical future only have a future meaning. However, grammatical
gender is not directly connected to gender, (for example in German if
you say something like "I like that girl Sally" you can follow this by
either saying "SHE is nice." or "IT is nice" because the German word
for girl (Maedchen) is neuter) so why should grammatical future only
have a future meaning?

Nat Caulk
University of Leipzig
phi95kalstudserv.uni-leipzig.de
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Message 3: Meaning of "shall"

Date: Tue, 18 Feb 1997 09:55:29 -0500
From: Alison Huettner <huettnercgi.com>
Subject: Meaning of "shall"

I seem to recall reading (in Michael Perkins' book on the English
modal?) that "shall" differs from "will" in that someone other than
the subject of the sentence is taken to be "intending" the action of
the verb. Thus the use of "shall" in legal language: "The party of
the first part SHALL..." means that the performance of the action
isn't at the whim of the party of the first part, but is imposed from
outside. The use of "shall" in questions is similar: "Shall I go?"
means the speaker is deferring to the wishes (intent) of the person
s/he's talking to. ("Will I go?" makes no sense, since the speaker is
the only person in a position to know whether the speaker intends to
go or not.) This description seems right for the use of "shall" in my
dialect.

For what it's worth,
						-- Alison Huettner
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