Learning Minority Languages.

Alice Bonasio writes for Quartz about an apparent paradox:

Yet at the same time as teens in the UK are turning their back on traditionally valued European languages such as German, French, and Spanish, Britain is experiencing a strong surge of interest in local idioms. There has been an uptake of kids learning languages such as Irish and Scottish Gaelic over the past five years, with 33% more students choosing to studying these languages in 2017 than five years ago.

She says “A recent poll of 15 countries showed a common language is the most important factor in defining a nation’s identity” and talks about the Inuit community of Nunavik, which “has the highest rate of Inuktitut speakers amongst all Inuit groups worldwide,” and the surprising flourishing of Basque:

Only a few decades ago, children caught speaking Basque in northern Spain would have been punished at school. But as of 2017, 54% of the region’s population are Basque speakers (pdf in Spanish), and in 2016 52% of university students opted for being taught in Basque instead of Spanish. […]

“There shouldn’t be a conflict between the local and the global, but I find that children who are not taught other languages struggle to grasp the concept that diversity isn’t a threat,” says Mari Tere Ojanguren, the principal of Lauaxeta ikastola, which is considered one of the best schools in Spain. “A person that only comes in contact with one language cannot truly understand other cultures. By the age of four our children are immersed in three different languages. So they can be in Abu Dhabi or New York, and they can understand that others around them are different, and be at ease.”

Nothing particularly new and surprising, but a nice roundup. (The title ignorantly talks about “a local dialect” instead of a minority language, but that’s on whoever writes titles for Quartz — the writer of a piece is rarely responsible for the title that gets slapped on it.)

Comments

  1. “A person that only comes in contact with one language cannot truly understand other cultures.”

    This.

  2. I wrote to ideas at qz.com complaining about the headline.

  3. David Eddyshaw says:

    While this sort of thing is obviously very welcome, it seems rather too good to be true. Certainly the figures for Welsh look pretty imaginary. Unfortunately there is little doubt that the language is, in reality, continuing to decline. There’s a lot of Potemkin Welsh about, too.

    Mind you, we had a discussion here a while back about Irish, where people are apparently choosing to speak Irish badly rather than not at all. And Elena Maslova’s account of Kolyma Yukaghir records an increase in the usage of the language which seems to be linked to a quite conscious decision by the community to use it even in an increasingly Russified form rather than abandon it altogether.

    Having said that, I was recently taken aback at a political event by the level of hostility to education in Welsh – from Welsh people. There was a very strong feeling among many that it was diverting our inadequate resources away from more important things (nothing new there, then …) While this attitude seems deeply regrettable, it’s unfortunately by no means irrational.

  4. David Eddyshaw says:

    There’s also (to continue my miserabilism) something pretty sad about the idea that young people might only see the point of second languages as a form of self-validation. The best reason for learning a new language is to find out more about others, not yourself.

  5. “A person that only comes in contact with one language cannot truly understand other cultures” — manifestly an oversell on the part of language-lovers. It’s obviously possible to understand other cultures without knowing the language, and knowing the language does not necessarily make you a better observer of other cultures. In my experience, superficial differences in language are often a red herring. People who draw judgements based on differences in language are all too often the worst type of cultural generaliser.

    One problem is that knowledge of anything is not merely the state of possessing knowledge; it involves the process of how the knowledge is taught and acquired. To take a trivial example, a student who studies French will be taught that the French verb has a future tense tense form (je mange -> je mangerai), just as English has a future tense form (‘I eat’ -> ‘I will eat’). Most students will go to their graves without questioning this.

    What the student is not taught is that while English does not have a future tense form, French does. ‘Will eat’ is not a real future tense; it uses a modal auxiliary. If a student is taught this difference between English and French, they will have a slightly deeper understanding of how English works. On the other hand, some misguided souls will inevitably be tempted to go one step further and speculate that French speakers are somehow more innately future-conscious than English speakers. (While this kind of uninformed speculation might not happen with French, it most assuredly does with other languages, such as languages that do not overtly mark unreal conditions.) The process of learning a language can thus be a long meandering process of discovery with many blind alleys, unproved hypotheses, and uncritical assumptions. Each person has a different journey.

    On the other hand, simply knowing another language and culture is no guarantee of a deeper insight. People who grow up bilingual don’t speculate about these things. Since they are in many cases unreflectively immersed in those languages and cultures, they accept them without thinking, living by two sets of rules while never really questioning why those rules are different. Such a person may be a less astute observer of culture than a person who does not know the other language but observes the actions, practices, and attitudes of the other culture.

  6. That seems a tad harsh. You can be brought up Wampanoag or Puyallup while knowing only English, but you will not be as strongly part of your culture if you don’t know the language that once was the sole bearer of that culture, and as things stand you must learn it as an L2, not acquire it as an L1. Learning a lost or mostly-lost language is a way of connecting with your people across time, as learning a distant language is a way of connecting with your lost cousins across space.

  7. Good to hear that Irish is not dying out. So the effort I put into learning this awfully hard language hasn’t been wasted after all.

    Re: Kolyma Yukaghir. According to latest study by Kharitonov, in 2016 there were only six fluent speakers of Kolyma Yukaghir. Working through Maslova’s book will make you the seventh.

  8. Eli Nelson says:

    @Bathrobe: This is a tangent from your original point, but I am not convinced of the need for educators to take pains to avoid calling the English construction the “future tense”. I do find the idea that English in some sense doesn’t have a real “future tense” interesting; but my problem is that on the superficial level, this is just a terminology quibble, and on the deep/interesting level, the argument doesn’t seem to have been fully resolved yet, and so should not be presented in my opinion without some caveats. I am not a scholar of tense and I might just be behind the times, but the last time I tried to look into the literature on this subject it seemed that people still had differing views about what is necessary for a construction to qualify as a “tense”, with no obvious consensus about whether the “will” construction in English meets a sufficient number of the criteria. The French passé composé is pretty much always treated as a past-tense construction in modern descriptions of the language, even though it is indisputably composed of an auxiliary and a non-finite form of the main verb that are distinct syntactic words (you can stick adverbs in between them).

  9. The story is pretty clear-cut. If there is a temporal adverb or if the context is clear, the present tense expresses future meaning just fine (“He is going to Russia tomorrow”); per contra, the modal will can appear in sentences that are not about the future at all (“She will try to lie” = “she is accustomed etc.”).

  10. David Eddyshaw says:

    That seems a tad harsh.

    True. I certainly welcome the idea of young people wanting to perpetuate their minority languages, though I suspect this is likely to lead to a sort of folkloric dilettantism rather than robust learning leading to real preservation in the long term. (A good bit of such interest as there is among young Native Americans in preserving their languages seems to be on this level, judging by what I’ve read.) Learning a second language is hard, and ethnic solidarity is just not nearly as strong a motivator as needing to learn a language to get a job or to be able to cope in some more prosperous region. Doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing that people try, though. And this is very much an area where I’d like nothing better than to be proved wrong.

    What bothers me about this is the conjunction with the (in the UK, extremely marked) decline in numbers seeing the point of French or German …. to turn Martin’s maxim around, I doubt whether a Welshman who can’t see any point in French is really going to have a genuine interest in Welsh either, unless he’s already got some competence in it, perhaps.

    @SFReader: sorry to hear it. Something else too good to be true …

  11. @JC: But similar observations hold true in languages with less disputable future tenses, like Spanish.

    Myself, like Eli, I haven’t been convinced of the disutility of positing compound tenses.

  12. David Marjanović says:

    There was a very strong feeling among many that it was diverting our inadequate resources away from more important things (nothing new there, then …)

    Ah yeah, that. Failures of the imagination about how much a political decision can cost and about what is just a question of political will are a global problem. Again and again people will say “we can’t afford” something that would cost a million out of a budget of a hundred billion. In military spending, a million is a rounding error, and yet that money exists somehow.

    ‘Will eat’ is not a real future tense; it uses a modal auxiliary.

    Being an analytic tense instead of a synthetic one doesn’t make it not a tense. It’s so completely grammaticalized that will doesn’t even mean anything else anymore, unless you’re well-read enough to understand what The Man who Would Be King was really supposed to mean.

    The Standard German future with werden is likewise a tense, even though it’s less often used than the English equivalent. Werden is in common use as a full verb with its own meaning, but ich werde tun does not mean “I become do” – that’s not even grammatical in German any more than in English. (It’s not “doing”; that would be tuend if anything.)

    Where the confusion comes from, I think, is that some languages have halfway grammaticalized constructions that open the door to slippery-slope arguments. Is I’m about to a futur proche, or is it no different from I’m ready to? What about the werden construction in my dialect, which does not normally express future but probability (a bit like “that’s not gonna happen”)? Many people, it seems, try to avoid this issue by using outward appearances as the criterion for drawing the line. I think they’re wrong.

    per contra, the modal will can appear in sentences that are not about the future at all (“She will try to lie” = “she is accustomed etc.”).

    Yes, but that’s a pretty straightforward metaphorical extension of its meaning as a future: it’s short for “next time she gets in that situation, she will try to lie – she always does”. I don’t think that makes it not a tense.

  13. Before looking at the arguments against treating “will + verb” as future tense, we must first consider why it is traditionally treated as such. There appear to be only two grounds:

    1) The a priori assumption that every language should have a future tense, presumably based on logic or Latin (or both).

    2) The fact that “will” is often used to indicate futurity.

    These are both fairly weak arguments. On the other hand, the arguments against this treatment are fairly solid.

    First, “will” clearly behaves like a modal auxiliary, similar to other modal auxiliaries like “can”, “may”, “must”, and “shall”.

    For instance, “will”, “shall”, “can”, and “may” all have past tense forms. While the tense relationships have partly broken down in modal auxiliaries, they are still quite apparent grammatically, especially in the case of “will” and “can”.

    For example:

    Sentences using modal auxiliaries can be put in the past tense:

    He will go out and drink with his mates and come home totally inebriated.
    He would go out and drink with his mates and come home totally inebriated.

    He can eat three helpings at one meal.
    He could eat three helpings at one meal.

    There is also the shift from present to past tense in indirect speech, in line with ordinary rules for tense-shifting:

    He said “I will go”.
    He said he would go.

    He said “You can go”.
    He said I could go.

    Since “will” clearly behaves like and belongs to the modal auxiliaries, it’s hard to see why it should be singled out for incorporation in the tense system.

    In fact, positing “will” as future tense actually disrupts the English tense system. It’s straightforward that the past tense of “take” is “took”. But how are we to interpret the fact that our future tense has its own past form (“will take” vs “would take”)? Clearly, it is an arbitrary step to take a modal auxiliary like “will” and make it into a part of the tense system.

    Since the identification of “will” as a future tense marker fails on formal grounds, we must fall back on semantic grounds. But here the arguments are even weaker.

    “Will” is not used exclusively for indicating futurity. It can be used to describe habitual actions and to indicate intent.

    “He will go out and drink with his mates and come home totally inebriated” is not about futurity; it’s about a person’s customary behaviour.

    Similarly with “I’ll be sitting there enjoying a drink and she’ll come along and try and snuggle up to me”, which is also about customary behaviour — right down to the setting of the situation (“I’ll be sitting there”).

    “I will be faithful to the wife” is not a statement of futurity; it is a statement of intent.

    In this, “will” is not so different from other modal auxiliaries, all of which have multiple senses.

    Moreover, “will” is not the only way of expressing futurity in English. All of the following indicate futurity:

    “I will leave tomorrow”
    “I leave tomorrow”
    “I’m leaving tomorrow”
    “I’ll be leaving tomorrow”
    “I’m going to leave tomorrow”

    It’s fairly clear that “will” has been singled out as the sole modal auxiliary to be incorporated into the English tense system purely as a result of the a priori requirement that verbs in English should have a future tense. And while it might be intuitively satisfying to have similar tense systems that can be equated across languages, it really doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

    As to whether educators should take pains to avoid calling the English construction the “future tense”, the only real grounds for keeping up the practice are tradition. In many ways it’s a harmless tradition, but if you are going to teach people how to express the future, why narrow it down to one method — often the most artificial one — and then have to teach students that, in fact, English speakers actually use other methods more frequently. What is the benefit in foisting a false tense on students when it possibly doesn’t even achieve what it was meant to — a good understanding of how English speakers express futurity?

  14. By @Bathrobe’s criteria, i.e. that there exists a grammatical form which is consistently used for the future, and nothing else, what is called the future tense in many languages, really isn’t. For example in Spanish, the future tense form can be used to indicate probability, “¿Quién estará tocando a la puerta?”, “Who might be knocking on the door”, when someone is knocking right now. Also, it’s not the only way to express future tense; “voy a ir” and “iré” both do (and the present tense form “voy” too, in some cases). I know French has “aller+infinitive” too, so it seems that French doesn’t qualify either.

    What is more interesting for English is that grammatical marking of the future tense (I’m not talking about the morphological form now) is mandatory. It makes sense to say that English has a future-present-past distinction, whereas many languages have only a past-nonpast distinction (and other languages do it in different ways). It is ungrammatical in English to say “we meet again” when talking about the future, whereas in Danish, “vi mødes igen” is fine. So for people learning English as a foreign language, it’s important to know that/how futurity is marked, and “Will expresses future tense” is a good, albeit obviously very rough, first approximation.

  15. There is a difference between tense and time. Tense is a grammatical category, not simply a way of expressing future time. Languages can indicate futurity without having a grammatical future tense. Similarly, the “future tense” can be used for more than futurity.

    The problem with English is that the so-called future tense doesn’t satisfy grammatical criteria for being classed as a tense.

    The semantic arguments I put forward were to counter the notion that “if ‘will’ can be used to express futurity, that’s good enough for me — it’s the future tense of English”. This doesn’t hold up since there are plenty of other candidates for future tense based on that criterion.

    The semantic criteria have nothing to do with Spanish having a future tense. As long as there are grammatical arguments for positing a future tense in Spanish, the fact that the Spanish future tense has various uses is not a problem.

  16. Isn’t this just a question of semantics – ie. whether the “will + verb” construction is a future “tense” or something different?

    In terms of language education, I’ve always taken the word “tense” to refer to a means of expressing time relations. Whether or not you express those relations by a single word or by combinations of words is a secondary issue. For example, the Latin word “eo” can be expressed in English by two words “I go” or more naturally by three words “I am going.” Does that mean that English does not have a present tense because in English you need 3 words (pronoun + form of the verb “to be” + participle) to express 1 word in Latin? Isn’t the combination of a present form of the verb “to be” and the present participle supposed to be a compound tense?

    It is true that the “will + verb” construction is not the only way of expressing future in English, but it is a fairly neutral way of translating future tense constructions from other languages. Maybe students need to be told of other constructions which tend to be more dominant in colloquial English eg. “gonna” for future tense, “couldof” for optative, and “usedta” for past continuous. Albeit, these constructions may be regarded as less formal and colloquial – especially when written using the spellings I just used.

  17. There was a very strong feeling among many that it was diverting our inadequate resources away from more important things (nothing new there, then …) While this attitude seems deeply regrettable, it’s unfortunately by no means irrational.

    Yes it is. You hear the same thing about the space program: “The money spent on useless rockets could be used to cure cancer or improve education!” But it wouldn’t be, it would be used for yet more military boondoggles, or disappear into various forms of corruption. The chance that the money used to promote Welsh would instead be used for whatever those complainers want it to be used for is approximately zero. It’s just a cheap rhetorical move.

  18. David Eddyshaw says:

    Not so; Wales has an educational budget the allocation of which is controlled by the Welsh Assembly, but the Assembly has essentially no power to increase the inadequate total amount, which is effectively set by an ideologically hostile UK government. So as a matter of brute fact, more resources for Welsh means less for other things. You may (as I do) think it’s worth it; but the dissenters are not irrational.

    Military boondoggles have not been much in evidence in Wales lately. I blame the Tudors.

  19. I don’t think it’s a question of semantics. It’s a question of linguistics. An unbiased linguistic field worker coming to English in the way that field workers go out to study unrecorded languages wouldn’t class “will + verb” as a tense. He/she would note that English has two simple tenses, present and past, and that futurity can be indicated in a number of ways, including through the use of one of the modal auxiliaries. He/she might also note that in formal written style probably the most common way of indicating futurity is to use a modal auxiliary.

    Whether you take simple forms or compound verb forms, classing the modal auxiliary “will” + verb as future tense does not make sense within the English verb system. As I pointed out, treating “will” as a verbal auxiliary fits in with the linguistic facts. Treating “will” + verb as a tense distorts them.

  20. David Marjanović says:

    Just to avoid misunderstandings – I’m not arguing for the whole traditional interpretation of tenses as a package. The going to construction has a claim at being called a future tense that is about as good as that of the will construction; that gives English two future tenses – so what, Spanish has two past tenses even without the more aspectual imperfect.

    But how are we to interpret the fact that our future tense has its own past form (“will take” vs “would take”)?

    Ah, but that’s not a past form, it’s a conditional form! It just so happens that the past and the “past subjunctive” have merged in English except for the dying remnants of if I were.

    There is a future-in-the-past tense in English (a very useful tense that I haven’t encountered elsewhere): you take the other future tense and construct its past – was going to.

    “usedta” for past continuous

    That one’s especially interesting because it doesn’t have a present-tense equivalent. It is therefore taught at some length when English is taught as a foreign language.

    While English might have an extreme number of constructions that are grammaticalized to intermediate levels, it’s of course not alone. In German, the so-called rheinisches Verlaufspassiv comes to mind: ich bin am Arbeiten, literally “I am at working”, really literally “I am at the working”. Along the Rhine (including Switzerland), this is fully grammaticalized as a progressive aspect, it’s used at what seems like every opportunity (i.e. it’s apparently ungrammatical not to use it when it can be used), and there have been calls to teach it when German is taught as a foreign language. Farther east, the construction exists, but is much less common, and it cannot be used with an object – where Westerners have no problem saying ich bin das Buch am Lesen “I’m reading the book”, that is plain ungrammatical farther east (and, so far, in Standard German). In Austria at least, there is free variation in this construction between am and the more common beim, progression isn’t often expressed to begin with, and the most common way to express it is by a word, gerade “right now” – which can also be done in addition to the construction. So, fully grammaticalized aspect in some places, almost ad-hoc expression in others.

  21. Not so; Wales has an educational budget the allocation of which is controlled by the Welsh Assembly, but the Assembly has essentially no power to increase the inadequate total amount, which is effectively set by an ideologically hostile UK government. So as a matter of brute fact, more resources for Welsh means less for other things.

    Ah, then I withdraw my inapplicable comparison, and I weep for Wales.

  22. Ah, but that’s not a past form, it’s a conditional form!

    It’s not a conditional in the examples I gave involving habitual action. Another example:

    “He’ll come and ask for money every second day”
    “He’d come and ask for money every second day”

    The second is past tense pure and simple.

  23. J.W. Brewer says:

    Given the differences adumbrated above and in the linked piece between the psychology of motivations and perceived payoffs for learning a minority ancestral/cultural tongue versus learning e.g. French (if not part of a historically Francophone minority group in a predominantly non-Francophone millieu), the potential for increased interest in the former combining with decreased interest in the latter doesn’t appear to me as a paradox at all. Indeed one suspects that some of the more rigorous e.g. Basque nationalists are trying to bring about an environment in which it would be perfectly possible to get through life functioning as a monolingual Basque speaker, and find the practical realities that assure that pretty much all young people growing up in the Basque country will also have native-level fluency in Castillian or French (depending on which side of the mountains) to be a regrettable reminder of their lack of success.

    Loose parallel – the *decrease* in the relevance of national borders within the EU (because of the loss of sovereignty and accompanying range of variation in policy on different sides of a border associated with being in the EU) may make secessionism more attractive because perceived as lower-cost – the idea of Catalunya leaving Spain or Flanders leaving Belgium has a positive emotional payoff but with fewer practical worries about the consequences of a leap into the unknown.

  24. David Marjanović says:

    I still have trouble wrapping my mind around the second, and wonder what its origin is.

  25. Eli Nelson says:

    @Bathrobe:

    In fact, positing “will” as future tense actually disrupts the English tense system. It’s straightforward that the past tense of “take” is “took”. But how are we to interpret the fact that our future tense has its own past form (“will take” vs “would take”)?

    Saying that “will take” is the future tense doesn’t mean that it is a symmetrical construction to the past tense. Clearly, it isn’t: but people often don’t treat past and future symmetrically. But I don’t see why this means that one of them must not be a tense: it seems like these are explained equally well by treating them as different kinds of tenses, that behave in different ways. The idea that English has multiple, somewhat orthogonal systems of tense-marking (e.g. one binary past-tense/unmarked system and another binary future tense/unmarked system, rather than a single trinary past/present/future system) is not I think a new type of theoretical analysis; if I remember correctly, Huddleston and Pullum analyze the pefect construction in English not as an aspect, but as a secondary kind of past tense (relative rather than absolute) that is combinable with primary past-tense marking.

    Secondary compound tenses outside of past-present-future are not something that you only get in the traditional analysis of English. French has the futur antérieur construction which looks, both morphologically and in terms of general semantics, like a combination of the future tense and the passé composé.

    I’ll respond more to some other points later, but one analogy I wanted to bring up is systems of grammatical number. People generally agree that the grammatical number system of a language is something different from e.g. just a set of adjectives or quantifiers used to describe the number of nouns. English “two stones” is not considered to be a dual construction in English’s system of grammatical number marking. But on the other hand, people aren’t particularly dogmatic about avoiding calling a certain construction in a language “the plural” if it is marked by a separate word, or optional, or isn’t used when there is another word in the phrase that indicates plurality. Eg. in Turkish you say bardak “glass”, bardaklar “glasses”, and çok bardak “a lot of glasses”; I haven’t seen anyone argue based on this evidence that the Turkish -lar/ler construction is not a real plural, because there are alternative constructions that also express the idea of plurality.

    The differences in the use of the “will + INF” construction in English and the French synthetic future tense to me seem much along these lines: sure, English doesn’t use “will + INF” in certain contexts where the future sense is implied by other information, but this seems compatible with it being a future tense: we just say that French requires the future tense to be used in more contexts than English does.

  26. David M, surely you’re familiar with past habitual would?

    I don’t know its origin, but I imagine it started with conditional phrases like “He would ask him for money whenever he saw him.”

  27. Will future is not morphologized like past -ed, but I seems like a tense to me. Some future marking strategies are not grammaticalized, say I am taking the test tomorrow as opposed to I am taking the test right now, but will is not like that.

    Bathrobe, past habitual would is not quite “past tense pure and simple” in that it marks aspect as well. English doesn’t have a generic past tense without an aspectual sense.

  28. Sorry, Bathrobe, I didn’t read your earlier more detailed note.

    It’s a matter of arguing about definitions. I think of ‘tense’, roughly, as a grammaticalized and more or less invariable strategy of expressing the time of an action. Adding “tomorrow” after “I am taking the test” is not grammaticalized, nor invariable. Unlike will it can change its position in the sentence, and it can be substituted with an unlimited number of temporal adverbs and adverbial clauses, like later, or an hour and a half from now, or after I am done milking the goats.

    As to past future would, that’s no reason to deny the grammaticallity of will. The continuous aspect be can take on tense and person markers, but that doesn’t make it any less of an aspect marker.

    Moreover, will future marker is mandatory under some circumstances. There no easy way of saying “I will see you next year” without using will.

    If you do want to mess with the traditional English tense system, here’s a different question: is used to a fully grammaticalized past habitual marker, deserving of its place in the verb tables along with past habitual would? I don’t know the answer to that.

  29. Eli Nelson says:

    @Y:

    There no easy way of saying “I will see you next year” without using will.

    There is “I’m going to see you next year”, but French likewise has “Je vais vous revoir” as an alternative to “Je vous reverrai”. I don’t think mandatoriness is exactly the right criterion to use for deciding if a construction represents tense or not.

  30. “I’m going to see you next year” and “I’ll see you next year” are not quite the same. In any case, the future needs to be specified, unlike, say, colloquial Spanish, where the so-called present tense is often used for the unmarked future.

  31. Trond Engen says:

    “See you next year.”

  32. OK, wise guy. “I will listen to you next year.”

  33. Trond Engen says:

    Heh, I replied on reflex, not to be wise. But it’s interesting: What’s special with “See you next year”? Actually, why is it slightly different in meaning from “I see you next year”? And how does that differ from “I’ll see you next year”? Or “We are back next summer” from “We’ll be back next summer”? As I (non-natively) percieve it, the present indicative adds certainty, while forms with “(wi)ll” are more a statement of intention. And “See you next year” could be a 1p imperative. Not sure if it’s a singular or a plural inclusive.

  34. I blame the Tudors.

    Indeed, there is much to blame them for.

    I weep for Wales.

    By all means; just don’t sell your soul for it!

    In any case, the fact that the normal present (formally the present progressive) and the normal future can be expressed exactly the same way (“I’m flying to Hamburg now/tomorrow”) more or less eliminates the notion that there is any mandatory marking of future time in English: all of will, gonna etc. are optional. The present is just the default if there is no modal, temporal adverb, or contextual implicature: “Will you see George tomorrow?” “Oh yes, I’m walking over to his house” shows how the implicature can be established.

  35. David Marjanović says:

    David M, surely you’re familiar with past habitual would?

    Yes, enough so that I’m pretty sure I’ve used it myself on rare occasions; but because I had to discover it on my own (it was never taught, unlike going to and used to and probably about to), I wasn’t quite aware that that’s what it is.

  36. @Bathrobe

    > the fact that the Spanish future tense has various uses is not a problem.

    I’m confused here… Then why did you make several statements along the lines of

    > Will” is not used exclusively for indicating futurity.

    to say that the claim fails on semantic grounds?

    Your main argument that the claim fails on formal grounds seems to be that “will” has a past tense, but so does “have”. So are “have taken” and “had taken” part of the tense system? Of course, you might argue that “have” expresses aspect, not tense, and I would be interested if your point is that “will” expresses an aspect, not a tense, but I don’t think that’s the case.

    I think it’s fair to say that in most languages, the mapping between verb forms and subspaces of the TAM-space isn’t simple. Whether the overlap between the “will” construction and the future subspace is big enough to call it “a/the future tense” is a matter of taste, I guess.

  37. @Eli Nelson
    ‘The idea that English has multiple, somewhat orthogonal systems of tense-marking (e.g. one binary past-tense/unmarked system and another binary future tense/unmarked system, rather than a single trinary past/present/future system) is not I think a new type of theoretical analysis’

    @Y
    ‘past habitual would is not quite “past tense pure and simple” in that it marks aspect as well’

    Apart from the continual confusion of ‘tense’ with ‘time’, I think the problem here is the obsession with maintaining a ‘future tense’ at all costs. The way to cut the Gordian knot is to recognise ‘will + INF’ as a modal expression that happens to express futurity, among other things. Indeed, if I remember correctly, ‘will’ has two main modalities: one is ‘volition’; the other is ‘prediction’.

    Volition is when the speaker expresses intention or determination:

    ‘I will be faithful to the wife’ (determination to keep a promise)
    ‘I’ll do it’ (not a prediction but an intention)

    Prediction can refer to events in the future:
    ‘It will rain tomorrow’

    It can also refer to the present:
    (Doorbell rings) ‘That will be the tradesman’ (This is a modal, just like ‘That must be the tradesman’ or ‘That should be the tradesman’ or ‘That might be the tradesman’).

    As a prediction, I think it can also refer to habituality (although this might be split off as a third type):
    ‘He will come and ask me for money every second day’.

    The fact that ‘will’ is obligatory in expressing the future in certain contexts does not mean that it must be treated as a tense. After all, ‘can’ is also obligatory in expressing potentiality, but like ‘will’ for futurity, it can be expressed in other ways:

    ‘I can see it’
    ‘I’m not able to see it’

    Of the languages I know, Japanese doesn’t have a future tense at all but is perfectly capable of expressing futurity, using the present tense. Chinese doesn’t have real tenses at all. There is no need to posit a ‘future tense’ merely because you feel that the language needs one.

  38. @Dainichi

    My argument had two parts.

    1. Grammatically there is no justification for taking a member of the system of modal auxiliaries and calling it a ‘tense’.

    2. Semantic arguments can’t be used to posit ‘will’ as future tense in English because futurity can be expressed in many ways, and ‘will’ is used for other modalities than prediction.

    In Spanish I am assuming that the future tense is well marked morphosyntactically. Therefore Spanish has a morphosyntactic ‘future tense’. However, this will not necessarily be solely used only to express futurity.

    If Spanish did not have morphosyntactically marked ‘future tense’, semantic arguments would not be sufficient to set one up.

    Grammatically the case for treating ‘will’ as the future tense in English is poorly motivated.

    In the absence of a grammatical justification, semantic arguments for nominating it as ‘future tense’ simply don’t cut it.

  39. Eli Nelson says:

    @Bathrobe: What makes the Spanish future tense “well marked” marked by morphology (in comparison to the English will construction)? There is a suffix used in Spanish to indicate future time reference, but Spanish uses verb suffixes for lots of things, like mood (subjunctive, conditional) and aspect (preterite, imperfect). As far as I can tell, the morphology of Spanish doesn’t show that the “hablará” etc. is a tense-marked form; it only shows that the construction has a certain level of grammaticalization. We say that it is a tense because of the semantics.

    In English, there are fewer verb constructions marked by affixes than there are in Spanish, and more verb constructions marked by the use of an auxiliary along with a non-finite form of the main verb. But I think it’s clear that all of the auxiliary + non-finite form constructions are grammaticalized to a fairly high degree. “Modal auxiliaries” form a category in terms of morphological structure, but it’s not obvious to me that this means that they must all be analyzed as expressing the grammatical category of mood and nothing else. If some languages use affixes to express both mood and tense, depending on the identity of the affix, why shouldn’t we analyze English as using auxiliary + infinitive construction to express both mood and tense, depending on the identity of the auxiliary?

    I wouldn’t say that I am obsessed with maintaining the concept of a “future tense” in English; it seems to me like some people are over-eager to eliminate the use of the term even in contexts where I don’t see that it does much harm. I don’t mind switching to something else, but it is a bit of an inconvenience to always have to use some phrasing like “the will + infinitive construction” and I don’t want to go to that trouble without a good reason. As far as I can tell, it’s not like the term “future tense” in discussions of English has been abandoned by all serious linguists a long time ago–e.g. The syntax of natural language: An online introduction using the Trees program, by Beatrice Santorini and Anthony Kroch, from 2007, still describes sentences like “He will wait” as being in the future tense. (“will” is also characterized as a future-tense marker in the following Linguistics 101 Theoretical Syntax slideshow).

    Apart from the continual confusion of ‘tense’ with ‘time’

    The definition of “tense” is based on the concept of time, so it seems hard to avoid such confusion.

  40. > In Spanish I am assuming that the future tense is well marked morphosyntactically

    It’s hard to tell if you mean the future tense form, or the tense (which to me, like to @zyxt, is a concept which might or might not be marked morphosyntactically). In case of the former, your assumption is vacuously true, just like it is for the “will + infinitive” form in English. If you mean the latter, it has already been mentioned that future-marking is not mandatory in Spanish, sometimes you can use the present tense form.

    Also, I am having a hard time understanding your grammatical/semantic justification distinction. Surely, if something isn’t used to refer to the (semantic) future, you couldn’t call it a future tense form, no matter how neatly it matches your grammatical criteria?

    If the question is “What is ‘will’?”, I can agree with you that it is primarily a modal auxiliary. But if the question is “Is the future tense marked in English, and how?”, then the answer is “yes!”, and “will” is one of the primary ways to mark it.

    Lastly, since people are not oracles, I wouldn’t be surprised if in all languages with future tense forms, those forms can express some sense of modality (intent, probability etc).

  41. @Dainichi

    I am referring to the future tense form. Where you ask whether “future tense” is marked in English you are talking about future time. It’s possible to talk about future time without using the future tense form.

  42. Then what’s your point? The marking of “iré” might be more morphological, and the marking of “will go” more syntactical, but they’re both morphosyntactially “well marked”, aren’t they?

    > In Spanish I am assuming that the future tense is well marked morphosyntactically. Therefore Spanish has a morphosyntactic ‘future tense’.

    So, by this argument, does English also has a morphosyntactic ‘future tense’, since “will + infinitive” is morphosyntactially “well marked”?

    > Where you ask whether “future tense” is marked in English you are talking about future time.

    People can correct me if I’m wrong, but as I understand it, most linguists use “tense” to mean a linguistic category which might or might not be marked morphosyntactically in a specific language/usage. Verb forms and sets thereof just happen to be stamped with names that have “tense” in them sometimes, since there’s correlation between their use and… well, a certain tense. That is admittedly confusing, which is why I put the word “form” onto the names when otherwise ambiguity arises.

  43. Trond:

    “See you next year” is an exhortative (1p imperative as you say), not a statement, so it’s not a fair comparison, and not all verbs can work as exhortatives in this construction, only ones that are reflexive (as in, “May we see each other next year”). With other verbs, it would be a simple imperative: “Be here next year”.

    “I see you next year” is, to me, not grammatical at all. “We are back next summer” doesn’t work for me either (though maybe some L1’ers here will disagree.)

    I am not sure how to analyze the be + -ing construction. Do “I am taking the test tomorrow” and “I am taking the test right now” express the same non-past meaning? Or are they express slightly different categories with the same morphology? I wish I had a good grammar with me (Quirk or Cambridge).

    Bathrobe: Another argument against analyzing “will” as a mere auxiliary verb is that it (like “have”) cliticizes to -‘ll, as grammatical items do and as lexical items generally don’t.

  44. “I see you next year” is, to me, not grammatical at all.

    That’s true. But that’s because “see” is an experiencer-subject verb, in which the simple present is used to express present time. Otherwise, the formal present in English doesn’t normally express present time at all: “I go to the store” normally means “I habitually go to the store”. It is not synonymous with “I am going to the store”, which expresses the present time, or if appropriate the future.

    “We are back next summer” likewise has a habitual sense that “We’ll be back next summer”. “We are coming back next summer” is of course fine.

  45. An effort to revive Karelian in a village (in Russian):
    http://www.pravmir.ru/kak-postroit-demokratiyu-v-karelskoy-derevne/

  46. “See you next year” is simply an abbreviation, not an imperative. This is obvious if you put the phrase in indirect speech. Typical conversation in a loud dance club:

    “See you tomorrow!”

    “What?”

    “See you tomorrow!!!”

    “What?”

    “I said, I’ll see you tomorrow!”

    “Cool, see you then!”

  47. Then what’s your point?

    The point is that English does not have a morphosyntactically well-marked future tense. “Will + infinitive” is a modal plus infinitive, which is no different from other modal plus infinitive constructions.

    Although you claim that ‘will + INF’ is ‘morphosyntactically “well marked”’, you are not actually starting from the form of the verb; you starting from the a priori assumption that there is a future tense, then arbitrarily singling out a particular form — one which happens to belong to a different system within the verb system — as a reasonable semantic fit.

    The form chosen does not fit in with the other two tenses, present (non-past) and past, which are a pair of inflected forms — the only two non-composite finite verb forms in the English paradigm. ‘Will + INF’ is a modal plus infinitive combination, which is not on the same level.

    The curious result of this choice is that of the three tenses, two (non-past and future) have a past tense. That is because just as ‘go(es)’ has the past tense ‘went’, ‘will’ has the past tense form ‘would’. The result is that an extra ‘future in past’ verb form needs to be set up within your supposed tripartite tense system.

    Non-past / Past
    go(es) / went
    Future / Future in past
    will go / would go

    Moreover, treating ‘will + auxiliary’ as a separate tense implies the following analysis of modal auxiliaries:

    He said, “I can go”. (modal auxiliary non-past tense + infinitive)
    He said he could go. (modal auxiliary past tense + infinitive)

    He said, “I will go”. (future tense)
    He said he would go. (future in past)

    Although the two sets of sentences are completely parallel, treating “will + INF” as future tense loses this parallelism and creates an extra, unnecessary grammatical category (future in past). Treating both as modal expressions is the simplest analysis, without any loss of information.

    If the a priori decision to impose a future tense on English is dropped, the whole verbal paradigm falls into place, without superfluous categories like ‘future in past’. ‘Future in past’ can be accounted for by the regular rule that shifts ‘non-past’ to ‘past’ in indirect speech. It also preserves the parallelism among modal auxiliaries.

    The point of grammatical analysis is to arrive at the simplest explanation of the linguistic facts. Positing one of the modal auxiliaries as a separate tense, one which is quite different in behaviour from the ‘non-past / past’ pair, causes unnecessary complications and does not add to the clarity of the explanation.

    Another argument against analyzing “will” as a mere auxiliary verb is that it (like “have”) cliticizes to -‘ll, as grammatical items do and as lexical items generally don’t.

    I can’t quite see the relevance of this. Most of the modal auxiliaries are destressed in ordinary speech. If you look at negative forms you will also find ‘shan’t’, ‘won’t’, and ‘can’t’ (pronounced differently in many varieties of English from ‘can’). ‘I could’ is reduced to ‘ai kǝd’.

    More importantly, the modal auxiliaries have grammatical properties that separate them from other types of verb, the most prominent of which is that they are ‘defective verbs’. One of the most salient features is that they can’t be used together, which is why ‘I will can go’, ‘I would can go’ and ‘I can must go’ are ungrammatical.

    You will notice that, as a result, all of the modal auxiliaries can express future time:

    ‘I will go tomorrow’
    ‘I can go tomorrow’
    ‘I must go tomorrow’
    ‘I may go tomorrow’

  48. ‘Future in past’ can be accounted for by the regular rule that shifts ‘non-past’ to ‘past’ in indirect speech.

    But only if the matrix verb is itself in the past tense, and then not invariably.

    “I am going.”

    “She says she is going.”

    “She said she was going.”

    “I will go.”

    “She says she will go.”

    “She said she would go.”

    But note:

    “I will be going.”

    “She says she will be going.”

    “She said she will/would be going.”

    And it is only in this consecutio temporum construction that would is still the preterite of will; in all other constructions they are independent modals:

    “I would go, if …”

    “She says she would go, if …”

    “She said she would go, if …”

    Another point is that in a conditional clause that is not contrary to fact, the future can only be expressed by the plain present form:

    “If I go to Hamburg, then I will see the Reeperbahn.”

    “*If I will go to Hamburg, then I will see the Reeperbahn.”

    The second is a common ESL error.

  49. in too much shock
    (I am in too much shock.)
    John Cowan called out Puyallup on languagehat
    & we won our vote in Catalonia!
    A language on the way to being less “minority”?
    & I discovered my Catalan-born daughter is now studying Irish….
    So: nothing intellectual here. Sorry.

  50. But it’s great to hear from you, and congrats on the vote!

  51. @Bathrobe: I did some reading on future tenses when I wrote my master’s thesis, so while that’s a quarter-century ago and I may not be up-to-date on all developments, nevertheless one thing I took away from that is that in most languages that have future tenses, these have modal uses as well, and that future tenses usage is normally not just a future time equivalent to past tense use. It is also quite frequent to have a mostly modal category (e.g. conditional) that is formally a past tense of the future tense (e.g. Spanish or French).
    Another thing is that if you compare English to German (or to Old Church Slavic, which I wrote my thesis about), the requirement to use one of the available future constructions (will or going to) is much stricter than in those languages, i.e. the use of (one of the) future tense(s) in English is grammaticalized much stronger than in many other languages.
    Yes, it’s true that will + infinitive pairs formally with other modal constructions, but that is true for the future tenses of many languages, which quite often started out as modal constructions. Parallel formation doesn’t have to mean parallel function, and different formation doesn’t exclude parallel function (e.g. the comparative, which can be formed both with affixes and with separate modifiers).
    I don’t know what you mean with “well marked”, but if it’s about the fact that the past and present tenses are marked with affixes or ablaut while the future tense is marked with a non-bound morpheme, I’d say that’s a red herring – marking of grammatical categories by affixes and ablaut are inherited methods that doesn’t seem productive anymore (in the sense that it can’t be used to generate new grammtical categories). This fact only shows that the past & present tense are older categories.
    Whether English will + infinitive should be described primarily as a mood or a tense probably needs to be based on a corpus investigation on which use (tense or mood) is the most frequent one and whether there is a clear preponderance. In any case, I don’t think you deny the existence of the past tense just because the same form can also express modality (hypotheticaly or irreal events)?

  52. David Marjanović says:

    Moreover, treating ‘will + auxiliary’ as a separate tense implies the following analysis of modal auxiliaries:

    He said, “I can go”. (modal auxiliary non-past tense + infinitive)
    He said he could go. (modal auxiliary past tense + infinitive)

    He said, “I will go”. (future tense)
    He said he would go. (future in past)

    Only if you insist on not distinguishing past tense and conditional. Does he said he were still occur in legal writing for example?

    ‘I will go tomorrow’
    ‘I can go tomorrow’
    ‘I must go tomorrow’
    ‘I may go tomorrow’

    This reminds me – modal verbs are more strongly grammaticalized in English than elsewhere. They must be followed by an infinitive. In German that isn’t the case: “can” must be followed by an ability, which is often but not always an infinitive – it can be a language or a sport for instance; “must” must be followed by an obligation, which can be the direction to the place you have to go to, bereft of any verb.

  53. @David Marjanović: The German construction you describe does exist in English; it is archaic but not ungrammatical. I’m not sure if it works for all the modals (can seems most problematic to my ear) or all complements, but must with a direction is definitely okay:

    We must away
    Ere break of day,
    To win our harps and gold from him.

  54. David Marjanović says:

    Oh yeah, I’ve encountered must away. Definitely archaic, though; grammaticalization hasn’t stopped…

  55. @ David

    Are you saying that in “He said he saw her yesterday”, ‘saw’ is a conditional?

    @Hans

    What are the criteria for defining “future tense” in the languages you refer to?

    The arguments I was making concerning the inappropriateness of positing ‘will + INF’ as future tense rely on ‘paradigm patterning’. A paradigm reflects the existence of actual verb forms. Latin has a clearly marked future tense form (ibo etc.), which is why this tense is a part of the conjugation. There are, of course, gaps in the paradigm, which are filled with periphrastic forms (notably for passives).

    I am not an expert on Spanish, but Spanish appears to have a well-defined verb conjugation in which the Indicative is regularly patterned into Present, Imperfect, Preterite, and Future forms, along with a Conditional. There are fewer categories for the Subjunctive (Present, Imperfect 1, Imperfect 2, Future). If Spanish did not have a distinct future verb form, would there be any real justification for a Future Tense in the Spanish verb conjugation? If the Spanish Future Tense were identical with the Present Tense, would you be justified in setting up a Spanish Future Tense which was identical in every way with the Present Tense? The only justification would be that “we’ve got to have a future tense”.

    English has perfect and progressive tenses which are entirely periphrastic, but these forms fit into the paradigm without too much drama (I have gone, I had gone / I am going, I was going, I have been going, I had been going).

    The same does not apply to the so-called future, which doesn’t really fit very well into the English verb paradigm. Inserting ‘will’ actually represents the wholesale importation of modal constructions into the paradigm. Most of the daunting complexity of the English verb conjugation is due to the insertion of a modal auxiliary into the conjugation: ‘I will have gone, I would have gone, I will be going, I would be going, I will have been going, I would have been going’.

    Since ‘will’ acts like the other modal auxiliaries, there are similar ‘ghost conjugations’ for modal auxiliaries outside the verbal paradigm: ‘I can have gone, I could have gone, I can be going, I could be going, I can have been going, I could have been going, I may have gone, I might have gone, I may be going, I might be going, I may have been going, I might have been going’, etc.

    If only to save foreign students that moment of apoplexy when they see the English verb conjugation, surely it is better to isolate the modal and conditional forms as a separate area of complexity, outside of the verb conjugation. Not only does it make thing simpler, it also reflects the reality of English.

    As Hans notes, futurity and mood are often interlinked, and future tenses are often grammaticalised modal constructions. The problem is that the English hasn’t been grammaticalised to that extent. The claim that English has a future tense is based not on grammaticalisation but on tradition. Like much prescriptive grammar, it is based on Latin models, not on the actual patterns of English grammar.

  56. To add another element to the discussion: Wasn’t there a prescriptivist notion that the future tense is something like:
    I shall
    you will
    he / she/ it will

    abbreviated to
    I’ll
    you’ll
    he’ll / she’ll / it’ll

    Also, I’d offer a hypothesis that the clitic “‘ll” has been sufficiently grammaticalised in English as a marker of the future tense, to the extent that it is understood by most speakers as independent of the full verbal form “shall” or “will”

    If I can offer a Croatian parallel. The clitic form of the verb “htjeti” (to want) is the marker of the future tense even though the full verb can be used too. Eg. “Jest ću” (supine + clitic = I’ll eat) is unambiguously future tense, while “hoću jesti” (1p sg of “want” + infinitive) can mean both I’ll eat (future tense) or I want to eat (I have a desire to eat). The question form “Hoćeš li jesti” (Will you eat) can indicate future tense as well as a genuine enquiry about the addressee’s volition, just like in English.
    In Serbian the supine + clitic combination is actually merged into a single word “ješću” to provide a future tense.

  57. To put it very simply, a future tense is a form that is regularily selected to express future reference and the main task of which is to express future reference. This future marking is one of a bundle of uses of English will + INF. My impression is that this is the main use of the English will + INF. As I said, whether that impression is true needs to be checked against corpora. I assume that has been done, perhaps I’ll go and search for such investigations later. At least I can say that English is much stricter in requiring overt future marking than German. Some of the other uses of will that you mention, like expectations, are typical uses of future tenses – the German or Russian future tense have similar uses and I think that’s true for the French future tense as well, but my French isn’t that good – maybe Marie-Lucie or Etienne can confirm or reject that.
    From my point of view, the formal side is important insofar that, yes, without a separate form there is no category – so no, if a language would only use the present tense to express future reference, it would not have a future tense. But the patterning of the form is secondary to the function. The patterning of English will is due to its original use as a modal construction; whether its use still is predominantly modal or temporal is what decides on whether it is a tense or not.
    An example on the pitfalls of formal patterning – Russian has two ways of forming the future tense. Imperfective verbs use the future tense form of “to be” (the only verb that has a synthetic separate future tense form in Slavic) plus the infinitive, while perfective verbs use their formal present tense. This present tense of perfective verbs almost always has future reference (there are some edge cases e.g. in proverbs where one could argue that the use is more atemporal than future tense), but going purely by form one could deny that perfective verbs have a future tense; the paradigm of e.g. skazat’, skazhu, skazhesh’ “to say” (perfective, future reference) looks the same like that of mazat’, mazhu, mazhesh’ “to grease” (imperfective, present tense reference), they’re only distinguished by their use.
    And in Old Church Slavic (OCS), this distinction wasn’t there yet! Both the present tenses of perfective and imperfective verbs could be used with present and future reference. This was the usual way of expressing future tense; when I looked at this for my thesis (on periphrastic future tenses in the OCS gospel texts), the overwhelming majority of Greek future tense forms was translated by simple present tense forms. So if you’d just look at the forms, you’d totally miss the development from OCS usage of the present tense of perfective verbs (present and future reference) to the modern Russian (and similar in other modern Slavic languages) with predominantly future reference.
    I think while traditional grammar made the mistake of looking at Latin and Greek and deciding that, because they have a future tense, English is obliged to have one, too, you’re going to the opposite extreme, maintaining that will + INF can’t be a future tense because it looks nothing like the Latin future tense. Both mean taking Latin as a template, while in many languages future tenses don’t pattern with the past tenses and have a bigger range of both temporal and modal uses. Especially in languages where the future tense is originally a modal construction, it is difficult, but also necessary, to decide whether a form is still predominantly modal or has become grammaticalised as a future tense.
    To look at something like that was the topic of my thesis. As I said, OCS mainly uses the present tense for future reference, but there are a couple of periprastic constructions that have been called future tenses in descriptions of OCS (“to want” plus INF, “to have” plus INF, “to begin” plus INF). I looked at usage and came to the result that the construction with “to begin” wasn’t a future tense at all (it provides ingressive aspect to some words where it can’t be done by the usual prefixation), that the construction with “to want” was mostly modal but had uses as a relative future tense (e.g. “future in the past”; that’s different to modern South Slavic languages that have a real future tense based on “want”), and that the construction with “to have” was a real future tense but with limited use, used to indicate certainty about the future event or triggered by certain constructions in the Greek original.
    So to summarize, we need to look at both form and usage, but usage is decisive. Many forms have bundles of usages and whether to call something a mood or a tense depends on what is the preponderant use. And lastly, certain modal functions seem to be a part of the future tense bundle cross-linguisticslly, so they aren’t a priory arguments against a form being a future tense.

  58. Both mean taking Latin as a template

    I disagree. The non-future-tense analysis of ‘will go’ is independently arrived at and does not take Latin as a template.

    If you want a better defence of the non-future-tense analysis of ‘will + INF’ than I can give, I suggest you read Huddleston and Pullum’s The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, which has very detailed justification for that analysis.

    I don’t know any Russian, but I am curious as to the meaning/usage of the present imperfective. And if it does have a non-future meaning, is there a corresponding semantic slot on the perfective side?

    Going by the justifications for ‘will + INF’ as Future Tense given here, perhaps we should also treat ‘be going to’ as a Future Tense form (as opposed to a collocation indicating futurity) since it satisfies the following criteria: 1) It has a “morphosyntactic form” 2) it is regularly abbreviated (‘gonna’), and 3) it has exclusively future reference. It can also be used where the Present can’t be used with future reference, e.g., “I’m going to see you next year”.

  59. With regard to my previous comment, I notice that there are influential English-teaching websites that eschew the term ‘Future Tense’ for ‘will + INF’. They either refer to ways of talking about the future, or use ‘Future Tense’ for all the different formats, including ‘be going to’.

    https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/english-grammar/verbs/talking-about-future

    https://www.englisch-hilfen.de/en/grammar/future_contrasted.htm

    There are also, of course, websites that use the traditional terminology.

  60. > ‘will’ has the past tense form ‘would’. The result is that an extra ‘future in past’ verb form needs to be set up within your supposed tripartite tense system.

    As it’s been mentioned, the tense relationships have partly broken down in auxiliaries, and I don’t see why that would have to be different just because we treat “will” as a “future tense auxiliary” instead of a “modal auxiliary”. That is not to say that I don’t see the regularity between the “future tense” and the “future in the past”, it’s just that “future in the past” doesn’t really qualify as a major tense. It needs a past tense point of reference, just like the pluperfect.

    > Treating both as modal expressions is the simplest analysis, without any loss of information.

    In your example, the “would” can reasonably be analyzed as modal. But that’s not always the case. E.g. in

    “She gave birth to the boy who would later become the president”

    I cannot interpret “would become” in any modal way. This is a simple “future in the past”.

  61. David Marjanović says:

    I don’t know any Russian, but I am curious as to the meaning/usage of the present imperfective. And if it does have a non-future meaning, is there a corresponding semantic slot on the perfective side?

    As I was taught it, the formal present (just stem + person/number endings + morphophonological complications) of imperfective verbs expresses the present, that of perfective verbs the future. The future of imperfective verbs is formed by a special conjugated form of “be” + INF; that construction does not exist with perfective verbs. Perfective verbs are not used to express present reference at all; in other words, the aspect distinction isn’t made in the present tense (but it is, also unlike in English, in the imperative). It seems that that special form of “be” is the formal present of a perfective “be” verb which is also used for the past tense and shares a root with “wake up”.

    Are you saying that in “He said he saw her yesterday”, ‘saw’ is a conditional?

    No, as you can see if you turn it into the more pedantic “he said [today] he had seen her yesterday”. However, I concede that your previous two examples are ambiguous. “He said he could go” can mean “he said he was in fact able to go”, “I’m reporting he said he thought he was able to go” and “he said he could go if…”.

    Going by the justifications for ‘will + INF’ as Future Tense given here, perhaps we should also treat ‘be going to’ as a Future Tense form

    Yeah, I said so above.

  62. And in Old Church Slavic (OCS), this distinction wasn’t there yet! Both the present tenses of perfective and imperfective verbs could be used with present and future reference. This was the usual way of expressing future tense; when I looked at this for my thesis (on periphrastic future tenses in the OCS gospel texts), the overwhelming majority of Greek future tense forms was translated by simple present tense forms.

    Very interesting!

  63. Marja Erwin says:

    I was taught the 3-tense system for English, and the 6-tense system for Latin. Neither one fits English. Neither one includes “would have,” or “was going to.” Neither one explains “is running” vs. “runs.”

    So I think it would help to teach 2 basic tenses (including the bare infinitives and participles), plus auxiliary verbs to construct other common tenses.

    I think someone had mentioned a Russian 12-tense system for English, where 1 tense required time travel. I don’t know the details.

  64. I don’t know any Russian, but I am curious as to the meaning/usage of the present imperfective. And if it does have a non-future meaning, is there a corresponding semantic slot on the perfective side?
    The present tense forms of imperfective verbs are a normal standard present tense – they cover both actually ongoing events (= English progressive) and habitual / recurrent events (= English present tense). As David M. said, the “present” forms of perfective verbs can only be used with future reference, and (as I mentioned) in some edge cases with atemporal / gnomic reference in proverbs (this is actually a remnant of the older, non-future uses of the perfective presents as I mentioned for OCS).
    I suggest you read Huddleston and Pullum’s The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, which has very detailed justification for that analysis.
    Do they go into frequencies of usage (frequency of future reference against modal uses)?
    Going by the justifications for ‘will + INF’ as Future Tense given here, perhaps we should also treat ‘be going to’ as a Future Tense form (as opposed to a collocation indicating futurity) since it satisfies the following criteria: 1) It has a “morphosyntactic form” 2) it is regularly abbreviated (‘gonna’), and 3) it has exclusively future reference. It can also be used where the Present can’t be used with future reference, e.g., “I’m going to see you next year”.
    Yes, absolutely. Just to make that clear, I never said that English has only one future tense, I’m only saying that will plus INF is one of the future tense forms of English.

  65. Do they go into frequencies of usage (frequency of future reference against modal uses)?

    Maybe the Longman grammar does? That’s another behemoth modern English grammar, and is strictly corpus-based.

  66. January First-of-May says:

    I think someone had mentioned a Russian 12-tense system for English, where 1 tense required time travel. I don’t know the details.

    The someone was me – I recalled such a system from one of my “teach yourself English” books. The book gave examples for 11 of the tenses from the English text of Lord of the Rings, and claimed that the last one also existed but wasn’t particularly useful in situations that didn’t involve time travel.
    Sadly I have forgotten what the book’s title was (I think I tried to google for it once, but didn’t get anything useful), and I don’t recall the exact wording of the “time travel” claim either.

    The 12-tense system by itself (without the “one of them requires time travel” note) is standard for English as taught in Russia, though some textbooks expand that to 16 (including Future-in-the-Past), and I’m pretty sure that I’ve seen a textbook that counted 28 (including the passive forms).

    EDIT: to clarify, the 12 is {Present, Past, Future} times {Simple, Continuous, Perfect, Perfect Continuous}.
    The tense that supposedly required time travel was probably Future Perfect Continuous (though I’m not entirely sure without access to the book).

  67. David Marjanović says:

    a Russian 12-tense system for English

    Well, we learned the Latin 6 tenses for English, each of them in a “simple” and a “progressive/continuous” version. (Yes, each: future perfect progressive: “Next year I will have been doing this for 12 years.”) That already makes 12 without any time travel, without is going to (which was taught, but not called a tense), and without was going to or would always do that (which were not taught).

    Edit: so the future perfect progressive is the one supposed to require time travel? It doesn’t. It merely describes imagining you’ll be looking back at what will then be the past.

  68. By my count from my old English grammar book there might have been potentially 32 different situations called “tense”. (Past, present, future, future-in-the-past) x (simple, perfect, continuous, perfect-continuous) x (active, passive). But 6 of these related to future-in-the-past would have been so monstrous that they were excluded from the otherwise nice and simple scheme.

  69. Future-in-the-past? You mean useful sentences like this?

    “He said he would have been being maligned on Languagehat for ten years next week?”

  70. Who, Hoz(h)o? We don’t malign him; the worst I said was that his writing did not contribute to hózhǫ́ much any more. There’s the Old Bill, but he is eudaimon these days.

  71. Do they go into frequencies of usage (frequency of future reference against modal uses)?

    No they don’t, although the examples they use are always idiomatic. When reading the grammar, its language strikes me as standard spoken English, neither demotic nor high-flown.

    Looking at the range of experiences and suggestions for tenses in English (from Marja Erwin’s two to D.O.’s potentially 32), it seems to me that perhaps the word “tense” needs to be defined better.

    I still prefer Marja Erwin’s version, with two basic tenses (past and non-past), and auxiliary verbs to construct the other ones. This is congruent with the formal properties of the verb system and allows you to come up with as many other tenses as you want.

  72. The WALS chapter about the future tense in the world’s languages, by Dahl and Velupillai, has an excellent introduction which describes most of the uncertainties we’ve been discussing for English.

  73. The common introduction to tense and aspect is even better.

  74. Do they go into frequencies of usage (frequency of future reference against modal uses)?

    No they don’t, although the examples they use are always idiomatic. When reading the grammar, its language strikes me as standard spoken English, neither demotic nor high-flown.

    My point here is that forms often have a wide range of functions, but when (just a hypothetical example) one function out of 10 covers 70% of a corpus and the other 9 functions are rare, then I would take that function as the central one. That’s why I’d be interested in a quantitative analysis. But I’ll see whether I can get my hands on the Cambridge Grammar.

  75. Marja Erwin says:

    On the other hand, I have heard that Gullah uses the same setup to make more customary distinctions than most dialects of English. I don’t speak Gullah and am not familiar with the details. I don’t know if a different set of customary tenses, or an emphasis on the different uses of the auxiliary be, would better explain the differences there between Gullah and most dialects of English.

  76. Marja Erwin says:

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