Re: Time Reference of Future Participles and Infinitives

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Mon Mar 08 1999 - 13:36:33 EST

At 5:20 AM -0600 3/8/99, Moon-Ryul Jung wrote:
>On 03/06/99, ""Carl W. Conrad" <>" wrote:
>Your comments made me raise some questions.
>1. FUTURE participles and infinitives seem to be interesting species,
>are not found in English. Are there other languages that have them?

Latin also has them; I would guess that several Indo-European languages
have them, but the future tense as such doesn't seem to be part of Proto
Indo-European (commonly acronymed as PIE); it's supplied in different ways
in different IE languages through different means: ancient Greek originally
used (apparently) a "desiderative" infix (-S[e]-) to develop a morphology
comparable to the original tense/aspect systems--but it had earlier used
(in Homer) subjunctives as expressions of intent, and later (in Modern
Greek) it uses present and aorist subjunctives to express two different
types of future, one aoristic (using aorist subjunctive), the other
durative (using present subjunctive), each subjunctive following a QA which
appears to be derivative from the older Hellenistic QELW hINA ... There was
also the use of MELLW with an infinitive to express the future--a
construction we see commonly enough in the NT Koine, and even the present
tense (occasionally even an aorist, perhaps) can convey with the right
contextual modifiers, a sense of futurity. Nevertheless, it is perhaps
rather significant that the future participles and infinitives don't fall
into the basic tense/aspect systems of Greek as such.

>2. As a computer scientist, who had a habit of transforming natural
>sentences into logical formulas, I feel that the distinction in
>time reference between FUTURE participles and infinitives and other
>participles and infinitives is a matter of degree. The logical formula
>for a clause has a free variable, RT (reference time), that needs to be
>bound to some time value.
>In the case of FUTURE participles and infinitives
>the RT is morphologically constrained so that it is bound to some
>future time, although the particular time value is determined
>by the context ( which includes the main clause to which the participle
>clause is dependent).

I think that this came to be true in developed usage as, e.g., FHSIN
ELEUSESQAI ("he says that he will come" vs. EFH ELEUSESQAI ("he said that
he would come").

>In the case of other participles and infinitives, there is
>morphological constraint on the reference time. The reference time
>is determined all by the context (including the main clause).
>In sum, we might well say that any type of clause HAS temporal
>in deep structure.

I'm not so sure we CAN say that. For instance, so far as I can tell, the
only difference between EAN ELQW and EAN ERCWMAI in classical or Koine
Greek is one of aspect, the first form simply specifying some theoretical
completion of the coming, the second form specifying some theoretical
process of coming on the part of the subject.

>3. In sum, while the "deep structure" of any kind of clause has the RT,
>the subject/actor, etc., they may not be explicitly specified
>in surface structure. Is it because language is "economic"? The
>would not like to say things that do not have to be said. Uttering or
>hearing redundant phrases would not be pleasing.
>4. But the avoidance of redundancy may not be the only reason for the use
>participles and infinitives. Are there concepts or views of situations
>that cannot be expressed WITHOUT using participles and infinitives?

I'm not sure that I'm competent in formal linguistic theory to respond to
these observations/questions. I will only say that it requires considerable
time and effort to appropriate the idiomatic usage of any complex
language's morphology, and I think that one learns all too quickly that
there's a good deal of flexibility and imprecision involved in several of
the distinct morphological structures of any language.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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