"Future tense" never existed before the Norman Conquest?

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  • Lee Sing

    Senior Member
    English from England
    I doubt it is true. English is a Germanic language, and both 'future tense' and 'conditional' figure in German and Dutch.
     
    Theoritaclly, there isn't Future Tense in English even now. You can only encounter two forms of a verb: past and simple. In English, the future is conveyed by means of the modal will, usage of Present Continuous and the others which I suppose are known to you.

    As for what some grammar textbooks use - tense - is a misnomer in origin.
     

    Carrie2

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    I don't know for certain, but doubt it very, very much indeed. Let me explain my thoughts:

    1) As Lee Sing says, English is a Germanic language. There were no Latin-based words in it before the Norman Conquest.

    2) Some people have the idea that only synthetical verb forms (ones formed by adding suffixes, etc. to the verb, and therefore consisting of only one word) should be called tenses.

    3) There are therefore many people who say that even modern English and German (and probably Dutch too, but I don't know because I don't speak it) have no future or conditional tenses, because "will/would do" and "werde/würde machen", etc. don't fit this definition.

    4) Romance languages, such as French, have synthetical future and conditional tenses. I suspect that someone has got confused, and knowing that French had a huge impact on English after the Norman Conquest has come to the wrong conclusion.

    I wouldn't like to offend the person who gave you this information, but in general it's good to bear in mind that a lot of books, articles, etc. on languages and philology are written by people who have almost no knowledge or understanding of the field.

    I wonder what other people think about my interesting hypothesis... ;)
     

    Lee Sing

    Senior Member
    English from England
    Yes, Carrie, I agree with you.

    Future and conditional are formed in Romance languages via verb inflection (ie the endings change), whereas in English and other Germanic languages they are formed with the use of a modal verb.

    Incidentally, the past perfect tense in English and the Parfait in French are both formed by use of a modal verb. Does that mean they are not tenses?
     
    Hmm, Lee Sing, I'm wondering what ending change you're talking about. Let me enumerate a few ways of conveying future time in English:
    - modal will
    - usage of Present Simple
    - usage of Present Continuous
    - to be going to

    None of these uses verb endings change.

    "Incidentally, the past perfect tense in English and the Parfait in French are both formed by use of a modal verb. Does that mean they are not tenses?"

    The tense is past. Perfect is aspect.
     

    Lee Sing

    Senior Member
    English from England
    majlo makes a fair point.

    Without the use of a modal verb, the future and conditional cannot be expressed in English as they can in many other languages.

    But that doesn't mean there is no future tense in English. It simply means that it is formed by using a modal verb, rather than verbal inflection.
     
    majlo makes a fair point.

    Without the use of a modal verb, the future and conditional cannot be expressed in English as they can in many other languages.

    But that doesn't mean there is no future tense in English. It simply means that it is formed by using a modal verb, rather than verbal inflection.

    True. Frankly, I'm torn between these hypotheses. I think we'd have to establish a firm definition of tense to settle the problem. I checked a few dictionaries and they say tense includes the notion of aspect. Thus, I'd have to change my mind and say there is Future Tense. However, the lack of English future verb form keeps me awake ;)

    No wonder even experts cannot agree on that.
     

    maxiogee

    Banned
    English
    Before the Norman Conquest there had been neither "futere tense" nor "conditional" in English language. Is it true?:confused:

    Can I go way, way off topic here and ask if your use of "the NC" in the title of this thread is a common abbreviation of "the Norman Conquest"?
    I've never seen it before.
     

    cheshire

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    No. I thought I would catch more attention that way. People would think at first glance "what's the heck is the NC?"

    <Moderator note: I have changed the thread title for the sake of clarity.>
     
    This is (I suppose) a poor analogy, but I can imagine an old auto repair text book as defining "brakes" as "a set of pads poshed outwards upon a drum which holds the tire"

    According to this definition, a more modern car with "disk brakes" does not have brakes.

    It appears that "tense" has a technical meaning among philologists. This is even reflected in the definition given below.

    ---------
    Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.0.1)
    tense2? [tens] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation,
    –noun
    1. a category of verbal inflection that serves chiefly to specify the time of the action or state expressed by the verb.
    2. a set of such categories or constructions in a particular language.
    3. the time, as past, present, or future, expressed by such a category.
    4. such categories or constructions, or their meanings collectively.
    [Origin: 1275–1325; ME tens < MF < L tempus time]
    -------

    Yet, as has been illustrated above with the french "parler", we english speakers have no problem simply and unambiguously conveying the meaning of "je parlerai" even if we do not use an affix.

    I think that it is clear that (outside the technical definition) we do indeed have a future tense.

    (IMHO)
     

    . 1

    Banned
    Australian Australia
    No. I thought I would catch more attention that way. People would think at first glance "what's the heck is the NC?"
    I would suggest accuracy rather than confusion is more relevant to thread topics. I can understand if people use innacurate thread topics by mistake but the use of an intentional mistake will do nothing but irritate. Sometimes just being noticed is enough for some people.
    Future tense must have existed prior to the Norman Invasion.
    Surely people must have been able to speak of the future prior to the Normans.

    .,,
     
    I would suggest accuracy rather than confusion is more relevant to thread topics. I can understand if people use innacurate thread topics by mistake but the use of an intentional mistake will do nothing but irritate. Sometimes just being noticed is enough for some people.
    Future tense must have existed prior to the Norman Invasion.
    Surely people must have been able to speak of the future prior to the Normans.

    .,,

    That is why they lost. They had no way of saying "The Normans are coming! the Normans are coming!"

    :)
     

    Brioche

    Senior Member
    Australia English
    I don't know for certain, but doubt it very, very much indeed. Let me explain my thoughts:

    1) As Lee Sing says, English is a Germanic language. There were no Latin-based words in it before the Norman Conquest.

    . ;)

    There certainly were Latin-based words in English before the Norman Conquest.
    The language of the church was Latin, and Christianity was introduced to the English nearly 500 years before the Norman Conquest.

    Naturally, a lot of the new Latin words related to religion: apostle, angel, cell, cloister, creed, and the like, but there were plenty of others: cap, sock, silk, purple, chest, mat, sack, beet, lentil, pear, radish, doe, oyster, lobster, mussel, cook, box, sponge, pine, aloes, fennel, lily, mallow, plant, school, master, verse, meter, gloss, anchor, fever, fan, spend, notary, cantor, cucumber, fig.

    Anglo-saxon expressed the idea of futurity with an auxilliary verb "wyllen".
     

    MissFit

    Senior Member
    So some are arguing that the future and conditional are not true tenses because they require two words, the main verb and the modal auxillary, and this differs from Romance languages which have a true future and conditional tense formed by changing the word endings. Of those who espouse that point of view, I would like to ask whether you also believe that English has no real infinitives because all English infinitives consist of two words? (e.g., Speak is not an infinitive. To speak is an infinitive.)
     

    Lee Sing

    Senior Member
    English from England
    So some are arguing that the future and conditional are not true tenses because they require two words, the main verb and the modal auxillary, and this differs from Romance languages which have a true future and conditional tense formed by changing the word endings. Of those who espouse that point of view, I would like to ask whether you also believe that English has no real infinitives because all English infinitives consist of two words? (e.g., Speak is not an infinitive. To speak is an infinitive.)

    Good point, it really is a matter of semantics!
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    So some are arguing that the future and conditional are not true tenses because they require two words, the main verb and the modal auxillary, and this differs from Romance languages which have a true future and conditional tense formed by changing the word endings. Of those who espouse that point of view, I would like to ask whether you also believe that English has no real infinitives because all English infinitives consist of two words? (e.g., Speak is not an infinitive. To speak is an infinitive.)
    Don't hit me! I only explained the point of view, I didn't subscribe it. :)

    For language learners and teachers, especially, I think it is convenient to say, for instance, that "The future tense of 'to speak' is 'I will speak'". Linguists, who are more interested in classifying and comparing languages according to their structure, may have other criteria, and prefer another terminology. But I would defend the use of the term "future tense" for English in teaching.

    I still have to take issue with what you wrote about the infinitive, though. You are assuming that the "true" infinitive form is "to speak", but that's arguable. "Speak" (the so-called "bare infinitive") also appears alone acting as an infinitive, so we could say that "speak" is the infinitive, and "to speak" is a periphrasis used in certain contexts, constructed as "to" + infinitive.
     

    konungursvia

    Banned
    Canada (English)
    It is not true, we can read in Old Norse, and Old English, the constructions "should" and "shall" meaning the future, for example in Beowulf; similarly, the cognate continues in all Scandinavian languages, e.g. Swedish, "jag skulle ville bo i Sverige" I shall enjoy living in Sweden.
     

    konungursvia

    Banned
    Canada (English)
    However, there is the argument that the future is not, or was once not, really a tense, in that it was just an artificial construction in most Indo-European languages out of the infinitive + to have, e.g. dire + ai = je dirai. So there is some truth to the notion the future is not a quite tense like the others.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    However, there is the argument that the future is not, or was once not, really a tense, in that it was just an artificial construction in most Indo-European languages out of the infinitive + to have, e.g. dire + ai = je dirai.
    I think that's only true of Romance languages. It wasn't true in Latin, whose future tense was constructed differently.
     
    Good point, it really is a matter of semantics!

    Ahhh you have got me off on a soapbox! (You may want to go to the next topic right away!)

    Lee Sing you have got to the crux of it all semantics

    So many arguments become moot when one sees the semantic basis of the disagreement. Classic example:

    The Question= "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?" (To not be anthropocentric, "no one" includes the bunnies, etc.)

    People argue for hours on this. But it all hinges on the unspoken definition of "sound"
    1- Sound= psychological experience of sound by a person (or other sentient being) (yes I know i use word in its own def, but we all know what i mean)

    2- Sound= the physical propagation of pressure waves through a physical substance in the range of 10 to 40k Hz.

    Those who answer the Q "no - no sound is made" are operating on def #1

    Those who say "yes - there is a sound" are holding to some form of def #2.

    At this point most people will pretty much agree that given a particular def. the ans follows without argument. (solipsistic afficianados excepted)

    [Stepping off soapbox]

    Remember:
    A. Korzybski: "The word is not the thing."

    - from Arcos de la Frontera
     

    Lee Sing

    Senior Member
    English from England
    Ahhh you have got me off on a soapbox! (You may want to go to the next topic right away!)

    Lee Sing you have got to the crux of it all semantics

    So many arguments become moot when one sees the semantic basis of the disagreement. Classic example:

    The Question= "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?" (To not be anthropocentric, "no one" includes the bunnies, etc.)

    People argue for hours on this. But it all hinges on the unspoken definition of "sound"
    1- Sound= psychological experience of sound by a person (or other sentient being) (yes I know i use word in its own def, but we all know what i mean)

    2- Sound= the physical propagation of pressure waves through a physical substance in the range of 10 to 40k Hz.

    Those who answer the Q "no - no sound is made" are operating on def #1

    Those who say "yes - there is a sound" are holding to some form of def #2.

    At this point most people will pretty much agree that given a particular def. the ans follows without argument. (solipsistic afficianados excepted)

    [Stepping off soapbox]

    Remember:
    A. Korzybski: "The word is not the thing."

    - from Arcos de la Frontera

    In the same way, is a message that which is sent or that which is received? i.e Is the message what the writer intended to mean, or what the reader understands? Possibly the former, possibly the latter, possibly neither - something in between.

    Incidentally, my comment about it all being a matter of semantics was intended to be ironic! ;-D
     

    MissFit

    Senior Member
    Don't hit me! I only explained the point of view, I didn't subscribe it.
    Wouldn't think of it.;)
    I still have to take issue with what you wrote about the infinitive, though. You are assuming that the "true" infinitive form is "to speak", but that's arguable. ....
    I'm assuming nothing--just trying to stir up more argument. When I was a child, I was inclined to poke at hornets' nests with sticks to see what was inside. :eek: Sometimes I got stung and sometimes I learned something (or both, simutaneously.) The same thing happens here in the forums. For example, today I added the word periphrasis to my vocabulary. After looking up that word and a few others (inflect, tense, an affix as a noun) in a dictionary, I've surprised myself and concluded that, strictly speaking, English does not have a future tense. If I check a different dictionary, I may change my mind again.

    I've never heard of a "bare infinitive" before either -- interesting concept.

    I think you're right about teaching. I think that teachers, and the average person learning to speak and write a language, should be using a different set of terms than the set of terms used by linguists. Linguists deal in minutiae and theory. The rest of us are just trying to communicate clearly. In the end, it doesn't really matter if English has a "true" future tense. What matters is whether or not we're ready when those Normans invade! :D
     

    . 1

    Banned
    Australian Australia
    Wouldn't think of it.;)
    I'm assuming nothing--just trying to stir up more argument. When I was a child, I was inclined to poke at hornets' nests with sticks to see what was inside. :eek: Sometimes I got stung and sometimes I learned something (or both, simutaneously.)
    I was just wondering how many hornets' nests you poked before you learned that a hornets' nest contained hornets that did not like your poking and what else did you learn?
    Perhaps your repeated poking of hornets' nests was due to the confusion engendered by the conjugation of tense or were you just too tense to remember.

    .,,
     

    Carrie2

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    There certainly were Latin-based words in English before the Norman Conquest.
    The language of the church was Latin, and Christianity was introduced to the English nearly 500 years before the Norman Conquest.

    You're quite right, Brioche. Thank you for pulling me up on that huge oversight (as I'm both a linguist and from Britain, it really was huge). Church Latin had never even occurred to me. You've just added to my education.
     
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