[Lingtyp] futures vs perfects

Martin Haspelmath martin_haspelmath at eva.mpg.de
Tue Aug 9 13:16:21 UTC 2022

Thanks, Björn, for this interesting question – unfortunately, I am not 
aware of any work that answers it.

There has been some quantitative work on stability (e.g. Dediu & Cysouw 
2013 in PlosOne), but it seems that this work always concerns "language 
traits", not particular constructions.

Lindstedt (2000) talks about gram types, which are construction-strategy 
types (or types of markers), and the stability of these cannot be so 
easily measured with the usual genealogy-based methods. If a language 
always has a future tense form/construction, then it will be stable with 
respect to the feature "is there a future tense construction?", but the 
form of the construction may be unstable if there is frequent renewal 
(e.g. Latin-Spanish canta-bo > canta-ré > voy a cantar 'I will sing'). 
Comparisons on the basis of language traits will simply overlook such 

On the other hand, one may take the perspective of a particular form 
(e.g. the French avoir+participle periphrasis) and ask how quickly it 
changes. But in order to compare such changes across languages, one 
needs to identify comparable paths of change with respect to their 
speed. This is hard, because it cannot be done on the basis of languages 
whose earlier stages we know little about (i.e. the vast majority of 

Lindstedt (2000) says that perfects are unstable, but on what basis? Has 
there been any broadly comparative research on perfects since Dahl & 
Velupillai (2005) in WALS? It seems that we don't really know much more 
than we used to know two decades ago...


Am 06.08.22 um 17:12 schrieb Björn Wiemer:
> Dear All,
> is anybody aware of work done to compare tense-aspect grams across 
> languages with respect to (i) their stability in time and to (ii) 
> their “fuzziness” in terms of range of functions? I’m particularly 
> interested in a comparison between constructions considered as 
> perfects vs those considered as futures. Both have been considered as 
> rather unstable (in comparison at least to present tense), but have 
> these “instabilities” been compared for a representative sample of 
> grams belonging to the perfect or, respectively, to the future domain 
> among each other? And has instability be captured in objectifiable 
> (cross-linguistically testable) properties?
>             For instance, Lindstedt (2000: 366), in his contribution 
> to the EuroTyp volume on tense-aspect, wrote:
> “In terms of Greenberg’s (1978: 75-76) distinction between the 
> stability and frequency of typological features, the perfect is a gram 
> type that is frequent, that is to say, likely to appear in different 
> languages, but unstable, as it often tends to be lost. More often than 
> not, it does not disappear as a form but becomes something else – a 
> general past tense, for instance.”
> Would there be a measure for stability (for particular grams, 
> constructions) and frequency (across languages) that would allow for a 
> more straightforward comparison between grams/constructions, in 
> particular between perfects and futures?
>             And, by the way, have futures been attested to become 
> anything else, or do they just disappear (if they don’t stay)? Of 
> course, we know of epistemic uses (e.g., Engl. /Paul will be in 
> Heidelberg now./ = Certainly, Paul is in H. now; [pointing at an 
> object before themselves] /What is this going to be? /= What might 
> this be?]. However, the question is whether, actually, these uses do 
> not precede proper future uses (i.e. reference to a single event after 
> speech time) in the chronology of functions assigned to some 
> gram/construction. What is known about this chronological relation?
> I would appreciate comments on this, and can compose a small digest of 
> responses (if there will be many).
> Best,
> Björn (Wiemer).
> -------------------------------------------------------------------
> obraz.png
> Björn Wiemer
> Professor für slavistische Sprachwissenschaft
> Johannes-Gutenberg-Universität
> Institut für Slavistik, Turkologie und zirkumbaltische Studien 
> (ISTziB), Abt. Slavistik
> Jakob-Welder-Weg 18
> D- 55099 Mainz
> Tel. +49/ 6131/ 39 -22186
> Fax +49/ 6131/ 39 -24709
> Sekr. +49/ 6131/ 39 -22807 (Fr. Fotteler)
> wiemerb at uni-mainz.de <mailto:wiemerb at uni-mainz.de>
> https://www.slavistik.uni-mainz.de/univ-prof-bjoern-wiemer/ 
> <https://www.slavistik.uni-mainz.de/univ-prof-bjoern-wiemer/>
> https://uni-mainz.academia.edu/Bj%C3%B6rnWiemer 
> <https://uni-mainz.academia.edu/Bj%C3%B6rnWiemer>
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Martin Haspelmath
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Deutscher Platz 6
D-04103 Leipzig
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