The semantics of the future

The semantics of the future. By Bridget Copley. (Outstanding dissertations in linguistics.) New York: Routledge, 2009. Pp. xiv, 156. ISBN 9780415971164. $108 (Hb).

Reviewed by Ana Bravo, University of Granada

The aim of this bookis to give a semantics for the following future-referring forms in English: the futurates, both progressive and simple (John is coming tomorrow vs. John comes tomorrow), the will future, and the be going to future. Futurates are studied in Ch. 2 (15–58); Ch. 3 (59–95) deals with will and be going to futures; and Ch. 4 (97–136) examines how these constructions, especially futures, behave in conditionals. Ch. 1, ‘Introduction’ (1–14), sets forth the standard description of the theoretical background, and some of the remaining questions are presented in Ch. 5, ‘Conclusion’ (137–43). Data from the following languages are also considered: French, German, Greek, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Tohono O’odham, and Turkish.

The starting point is the assumption that the speaker, when talking about the future, does so with a high level of confidence. Hence, according to the author, despite the fact that there is some indeterminacy about the future, the only source of modality comes from the intentions on the part of the entity presupposed to have control over what happens. That is, it is a bouletic, not an epistemic modality.

As a result, all of the future constructions are considered modal in essence and futurity is given a modal analysis. Furthermore, the four constructions share the same modal (allb), which involves universal quantification over a metaphysical modal base and two ordering sources, bouletic and inertial. The futurate operator allb presupposes (the direction presupposition) that there is a director d that is able to make a valid plan, but asserts (the commitment assertion) that such a director is committed to the future-proposition p, because d has the ability to see that p happens. The bouletic ordering source is necessary as long as there is an animate director committed to p and covers what is called intention in the literature. But future constructions are also characteristically attributed a very strong prediction sense. In C’s proposal the inertial ordering source is responsible for those cases in which the director is not animate. The future-modal definition proposed also accounts for the facts regarding the law of the excluded middle.

Finally, an aspectual operator at the top of the future-modal is responsible for the differences in meaning between progressive and non-progressive constructions. Progressive futurates and be going to (also progressives) select for a progressive operator (Somet), while simple futurates and futures select for the generic operator Allt. In addition, simple futures can select for no aspectual operator (bare simple future). Differences between generic will and bare will are aspectual, as only the former presents the subinterval property. Other differences between the various future constructions are also examined.

These aspectual operators affect which words the modal quantifies over, as shown by the different scope relations available in future conditionals, which in turn affect the temporal interpretation of their antecedents and consequents. Hence, two types of conditionals are to be distinguished.

Apart from formal semanticists interested in modality, aspect, and tense relations, specifically in conditional sentences, this book is a must for scholars of future-referring constructions in any language and any theoretical framework.