In English, the sentence It is cold tomorrow, with the present tense of the copula is, sounds strange: it is more natural to say It will (it’ll) be cold tomorrow or It is going to be cold tomorrow, using a future tense form. In Finnish, on the other hand, one may replace the adverb tänään ‘today’ in (1) with huomenna ‘tomorrow’, yielding (2) without any further changes in the sentence.
‘It is cold today.’
‘It will be cold tomorrow.’
The Present Tense can thus be used equally well for the present and the future in Finnish, in contrast to English, where it is often the case that auxiliary constructions such as shall/will+Verb and be going to+Verb must be used when speaking of the future. In many languages where future time reference is grammaticalized, the means employed is inflectional. Thus, in French, (3) and (4) differ in the form of the verb faire ‘(lit.) do’.
‘It is cold today.’
‘It will be cold tomorrow.’
It is relatively rare for a language to totally lack any grammatical means for marking the future. Most languages have at least one or more weakly grammaticalized devices for doing so. In this chapter, we have therefore decided to map only the inflectionally marked future tenses, inflectional marking being a relatively clear criterion (although there are some borderline cases where it is unclear if one is dealing with a clitic or an affix). Inflectional markings more often tend to be obligatory and also on the whole have a wider range of uses. For instance, they regularly show up in temporal and subordinate clauses, where periphrastic future-marking devices are relatively rare. They also appear systematically (often obligatorily) in sentences which express clear predictions about the future (which are independent of human intentions and planning), whereas less grammaticalized constructions often tend to be predominantly used in talk of plans and intentions—a fact which is explainable from the diachronic sources of future tenses, which have been fairly well studied (Bybee et al. 1994: 243-280). In most cases, inflectional future tenses derive from periphrastic constructions (employing auxiliaries or particles), which are in turn derived from constructions expressing such notions as obligation (‘must’), volition/intention (‘want’), and motion (‘go’ and ‘come’). However, a future tense may develop out of an earlier non-past or imperfective as an indirect effect, for example of the functional expansion of an earlier progressive—the future uses are what is left of the old category after that expansion.
The modal overtones that tend to go with futures have led many linguists to question their status as tenses (e.g. Lyons 1968: 306-311). In the approach presented in our general introduction, it is generally not expected that one will be able to make an unequivocal classification of the elements of tense-aspect-mood systems into neat compartments. From a diachronic point of view, it may be noted that one result of the progressive grammaticalization of futures is that the temporal component of their semantics becomes more dominant relative to the modal component.
Many grammars subsume grammatical future-marking devices under the heading "irreal(is)", especially when their range of use includes negated sentences, counterfactual conditionals, imperatives, etc. With Bybee et al. (1994: 240), we take the view that the distribution of irrealis categories varies too much across languages for them to be acknowledged as a viable cross-linguistic type; such categories are here counted as inflectional futures, if they are expressed inflectionally and cover the same range of uses as other future tenses.
For this map, only two values have been defined: languages in which there is inflectional marking of future time reference and those where there is not.
|Go to map|
|Inflectional marking of future/non-future distinction||110|
|No inflectional marking of future/non-future distinction||112|
The map shows some fairly clear areal tendencies in the distribution of inflectional future tenses, although there are no real large-scale homogeneous areas as in the case of past tenses (cf. Chapter 66). On two continents, North America and Australia, languages with inflectional futures are in a clear majority, as also in New Guinea (at least the central parts). The sample languages from the South Asian subcontinent consistently mark future inflectionally; this is in stark contrast to the adjacent Southeast Asian area, where no inflectional futures are found between 90°E and 120°E. (For a discussion of the Southeast Asian area, see Chapter 66.) European languages are averse to inflectional future marking, with some exceptions (the western Romance, Baltic and Celtic languages). There is a fairly homogeneous future-marking area extending from the Middle East up into the Caucasus. South America and Africa are more varied, although there may be local patterns not visible in this sample.
In Chapter 65, we noted that there is no evidence in the data for a division of languages into tense-prominent and aspect-prominent. Another such proposed typology (Ultan 1978) is into languages that oppose grammatically past and non-past and languages that oppose future and non-future. Again, the data presented here do not lend support to this typology. There are more languages in the sample that have both pasts and futures, or neither of them, than languages that only have one of the two categories. Even if the proportion may not be wholly reliable, it is unlikely that a negative correlation between the marking of past and the marking of future could be found.