Syntax changes in MnE

Here we ask: what changes may be occurring to verbs in English in our lifetimes? The “Christmas quiz” below may help you think what utterances you now find acceptable, which can be compared with what was acceptable when you were at school.

English tenses are present and past. Most linguists do not recognise a definite future tense, but sometimes a future time is implied, as in the first below. Aspects mainly refer to whether the action is habitual, perfective or imperfective. The grammatical time and aspect are often contrary to the form in the seven examples below. The verb “to bear” exists most of the six current branches of PIE so it is used as paradigm below. It is a strong verb with these five parts: bear; bears; bearing; bore; borne/born.

The support is bearing the load tomorrow [time fut, aspect imp, appears present continuous]
1. You will bear the responsibility [tens pres aspect hab but appears future and perfective]
2. In winter we would bear the cold [tense past, aspect hab, but appears present conditional]
3. We used to bear the cost of breakages [another habitual past with ‘used to’ auxiliary]
4. We have borne worse losses [aspect perfective; describes we in the present but aspect perf]
5. In 1941 Britain was bearing the attacks of the Luftwaffe alone [tense past, aspect imperf]
6. People would say I was weak if I bore it [the conditional clause is an impossible unreal past]
7. He was born a week early [past passive; the active “she bore him” is now rare]

In Birmingham schools 40% of children have a different maternal language. Among them speakers of the related North Indian languages Punjabi or Mirpuri are the most numerous. We will think about how their attempts to convey tense and aspect in English may develop. The following utterance is by an imaginary self-taught Indian talking to a tourist about the raj. Do you understand him? What novel grammar structures is he using?

English memsahib summertime she not liking Delhi – hot, very hot. She going Shimla with train.”

His maternal language is Punjabi and this is how the TMA system works in the first person singular of the verb āuṇā (‘to come’):

The speaker knows that three Hindustani words have been borrowed into English. The subject noun is unmodified from singular but is used stereotypically for plural. “Summertime” is used adverbially as past tense marker. Both verbs are in the present continuous form, but the sense is past habitual. 

TMA: Tense, Modality, Aspect this chart has Aspect (completed ↔ ongoing) across the page and time (including tense) down the page.

Modal verbs This chart shows modal verbs in a space defined by Probability, Permission/ duty and Willingness/ Ability. “Must” has higher probability than “May”, but most of the others cannot be easily placed. MnE is in the foreground in green and OE is in our OE background.