Germanic future constructions: A usage-based approach to grammaticalization
Kemmer, Suzanne E.
Doctor of Philosophy
This study offers a new approach to grammatical constructions that express futurity in Danish, Dutch, English, German, and Swedish. Future constructions develop out of lexical elements whose meanings persist to some degree in modern usage. Future constructions thus convey not only future time reference, but also modal meanings of volition, obligation, or possibility. This multifunctionality has been a challenge for previous accounts that aimed to delimit their function to either tense or modality. The present study aims to overcome this debate and views future constructions as meaningful units of language, not as mere paradigmatic alternatives to temporal or modal categories. The present study develops a methodology that provides the study of meaning with a strong empirical basis in the form of large computerized text collections. In order to characterize the meaning of a given future construction, the present analysis investigates the types of main verbs that typically co-occur with it in actual usage: If a given construction typically occurs with intentional verbs such as write or speak, its meaning will differ from constructions that typically occur with verbs such as rain or increase. The same methodology is applied to the historical study of future constructions: If a given construction tends to co-occur with different main verbs at subsequent stages in time, this is indicative of a semantic change. The results of both the synchronic and the historical investigation challenge results of earlier studies. For instance, the English future construction with be going to has been commonly assumed to be a translational equivalent of Dutch gaan. Evidence from modern usage data shows that this is not the case, since both constructions are used to refer to different types of future events. With respect to the historical development of future constructions, several developmental paths have been proposed for constructions deriving from verbs of motion, obligation, and other lexical sources. For example, verbs of motion are supposed to become markers of intention before they acquire temporal meaning. This study presents historical data from a Swedish future construction with the verb komma 'come', which has developed in an entirely different way. Overall, the comparison of future constructions across languages and across different periods of time is intended to develop an understanding of these constructions as meaningful units. While many aspects of these constructions are idiosyncratic, and thus account for the controversies that have surrounded them, some aspects are invariant across the investigated languages, and thus seem to be typical of future constructions in general. The study also yields new insights into the workings of grammatical change, especially regarding the function of co-occurring lexical material in the historical development of constructions. Methodologically, the present study breaks new ground as it empirically tests general tenets and specific proposals regarding grammatical change on the basis of primary usage data.