Saturday, 23 February 2013

future-perfect or jam to-morrow

BBC Magazine profiles an interesting study from Yale University’s department of Sociology on the potential connection between the confines of grammar and financial readiness, with likely bonds among the cultural gradients in the spectrum of mores, like hierarchy, collectivism versus individualism, gender equality, etc.
The lead researcher groups all the world’s languages into two classes, one group, which includes English, is marked by a strong shifting of tenses to express action, intentions and wishes that are to take place in the future, covering both the mundane and the inspired, and the other group of languages whose rules of grammar do not make a big distinction between present and future. The difference does not fall strictly among family lines—for example, while in English one must say, “It will snow tomorrow,” auf Deutsch, a close relative, one can say, “Morgen scheint es” with no ambiguity.  European on balance languages seem to have the most formal ways of differentiating time. After large-scale studies on the future-oriented habits of speakers of these different lingual classes, mostly involving savings and retirement but also habits, like exercise and preventative health, that defer rewards for present action, the researcher found a strong correlation between shoring up for one’s future, whether one’s Golden Years or something more immediate though not instantly gratified, among those speakers whose tongue did not really have a separate future tense.

I wonder if there is also some corollary for those complex past-perfect constructions that some languages admit: I would have had already been on the road, had it not been snowing. Some peers in the fields of sociology, economics and linguistics found these conclusions to be specious, but such ideas, daily affirmations in the way grammar may make tomorrow very different from today (I always thought it interesting that in Spanish and German and a lot of close dialects, the word for mor- ning and tomorrow are the same and without causing grave confusion), estranging and currying procrastination.