Future Tense: Greek and English

At some point in my blogging, I criticized Porter about his definition of the Future tense form, particularly for this statement:

Rather than temporal values, the future form grammaticalizes the semantic (meaning) feature of expectation.
Stanley E. Porter, Idioms of the Greek New Testament (Sheffield: JSOT, 1999), 44.

Not only is this definition some what silly sounding since its exactly what we would expect a future tense to do anyway, but Porter, neither in his grammar or in his dissertation, gives much argument or evidence on the subject.

Enter, today’s post from the Language Log, “What’s Will?” written by Mark Libermann a linguist at the University of Pennsylvania. In his post his argues and provides evidence that English does not have a future tense. Now whether you agree with him or not is up to you, my point is simply to show what kind of evidence is actually required in making such a claim.

And then also for a bit of humor, here is the other post from today at the Language Log: “The ghost of complex English auxiliary strings.”

7 thoughts on “Future Tense: Greek and English

  1. Das hätte ich lange her vergessen haben mögen oder aber eher nie gelernt haben sollen.

    In the spirit of the season, I say, “Modal auxiliaries: bah, humbug!”

    So far as Greek is concerned, many NT grammarians seem convinced it’s a sigmatic aorist subjunctive (short-vowel) form, but linguistic historians have given up on that and think it’s a “desiderative” -σ- infix. Of course Modern Greek has two futures, one aoristic one imperfective, both built upon να (ἵνα) + aor. or pres. subjunctive.

    Seems to me that construction of the future with an auxiliary is pretty standard; English may use “will” nowadays (erstwhile “shall” in the first person and “will” in the second and third); of course we can use the present tense to express future intent. Koine Greek tended to use μέλλω with the infinitive — and that verb does seem to have expressed intent in earlier Greek. German uses the verb ‘werden’ which is somewhat like Greek γί(γ)νομαι in sense: ‘be in the process.’

    Whether you want to call it a “real” future tense or not, the (very) few languages I know have no problem expressing futurity verbally.

  2. Personally, I think that Greek does have a real future. It may have developed from the aorist subjunctive, but I think that by the time we get the first century, it definitely a future tense. Historically, it parallels the development of future tense in other languages such as Russian in terms of where it came from.

    Modern Greek has a θα future auxiliary, doesn’t it?

  3. Modern Greek uses θα with the present or aorist subjunctive to form an imperfective or perfective future. The θα derives from the ancient θέλω ἵνα.

    1. You are actually right, I am a Greek postgraduate student of linguistics and if you’re interested in exploring the status of the future in Modern Greek you shoud see Tsangalidis, A., (1999). “Will” and “tha”: A Comparative Study of the Category Future. Thessaloniki: University Studio Press, or other related publications by the same author.

  4. As to the English future – these sorts of claims are easier made and accepted when a language doesn’t have a long tradition of grammar – which is another big reason why everyone is so suspicious of Porter, though I think that the case is stronger for English than it is for Hellenistic Greek.

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