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Academic Paper


Title: Future time reference expressed by 'be to' in Present-day English
Linguistic Field: Historical Linguistics
Subject Language: English
Abstract: 'This article argues that 'be to' is primarily a modal auxiliary expressing the necessity of future actualization of the ‘residue-situation’ (= the situation referred to by the clause minus 'be to'). Eight possible ‘M-origins’ (= origins of the necessity) are identified. The ‘futurish’ use of 'be to' in present-day English is closely related to these modal uses, especially to the use in which the M-origin is an official arrangement.
The modal interpretation shifts to a futurish interpretation when the emphasis shifts from the present existence of the necessity to the future actualization of the residue-situation. This shift of emphasis is accompanied by a loss of doubt about this future actualization.
In other words, the futurish reading comes to the fore when the (strong or weak) origin of the necessity is bleached, so that the hearer's attention is directed to the future actualization of the residue-situation. Various cases of such bleaching are treated. In some cases (e.g. when 'be to' collocates with 'still' or 'yet', as in 'He is still to keep the first of his promises'), the bleaching of the M-origin is complete, so that only the sense of futurity (and hence of ‘not-yet-factuality’) is left. In some examples there is no clear difference between 'be to' and 'will' any more, so that the two are interchangeable within the same sentence.

CUP at LINGUIST

This article appears in English Language and Linguistics Vol. 14, Issue 2, which you can read on Cambridge's site or on LINGUIST .



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