Centrum för kognitiv semiotik (CCS)

Humanistiska och teologiska fakulteterna | Lunds universitet

Ethnolinguistics and the formation of future tense: with particular focus on greetings

Junichi Toyota (Osaka City University)

This presentation discusses how culture can influence on developing grammatical constructions, using the future tense as an example. Various previous works on historical linguistics (Bybee et al. 1991, Heine and Kuteva 2002) identify several major developmental paths for the future tense or grammatical expressions referring to futurity (both are correctively referred to here as future tense), i.e. the origin of the future tense normally falls into one of the followings, i.e. verbs of desire, verbs of obligation or motion verbs. The choice of an original form may vary from language to language, but historical linguistics cannot clarify why a certain origin was chosen by a certain language and why the future tense exists in some languages and not in others.

Toyota (2012, 2015) treats fear and anxiety towards death as a key factor in developing future tense, and changes in religious view and society, such as religious reformation, pandemic of diseases, etc. can have some significant influence on development of future tense, to the extent that future tense can be completely eliminated.

Following this line of argument, a particular attention is paid to greetings of farewell in this presentation. Saying goodbye can happen in various everyday situations, but the same greeting can be also used when parting with the deceased. A hypothesis tested is that the development of greetings of farewell may reflect on how people saw and coped with death in the past, and in turn influence the future tense. This greeting can be roughly divided into three types, i.e. a religious type (French adieu (lit. ‘to god’)), a reunion type (German Auf Wiedersehen (lit. ‘at again seeing’)) and a good-luck type (English Fare thee well), and languages may employ more than one type. Once etymology of these phrases are seen, it becomes obvious how religion is deeply embedded in everyday life of ordinary people in some languages. However, religious aspects may be completely absent in others. This presentation looks at two languages, English and Japanese, very closely to show whether the greetings of farewell can be related to the expression of future tense.