The Origins of the Russian Imperfective Future Construction budu + Infinitive

Marika Whaley, Ohio State University

In modern Russian linguistics, the imperfective future construction budu + infinitive (hereafter referred to as the "be-future") is often characterized as an aparadigmatic member of the Russian tense system. Whereas other tenses are expressed through the modification of verb stems on a morphological level, the imperfective future is expressed syntactically by the combination of an inflected auxiliary verb with an infinitival complement. The singular nature of the be-future in the Russian verbal system has led some scholars to believe that the be-future must be a rogue construction borrowed from a foreign, non-Slavic source. Such conclusions are often tied to a larger, more far-reaching attempt to argue that the Slavic be-future was originally a borrowed form.

This paper will explore the possibility that the development of the be-future can be traced to primarily internal influences, and that the construction is in fact an inherently "Slavic" member of the Russian tense-aspect-modality system. I will justify this hypothesis by closely analyzing the Old Russian future perfect, a construction that employed the same auxiliary as the Modern Russian be-future, and by exploring the relationship between the be-future and other constructions of verb + infinitive (i.e., phase verb constructions). My analysis is founded upon two areas of research in general linguistics: the study of the evolution of future tenses in general, carried out by scholars interested in grammaticalization theory, and a description of the mechanisms of syntactic change, proposed by Harris and Campbell (1995).

The conclusions presented in this paper are important for resolving two current problems in Russian historical linguistics. First, a detailed study of the development and categorial status of the be-future in premodern Russian has not yet been undertaken. Second, a demonstration of how the evolution of the Russian be-future was influenced by internal factors serves to weaken the position of those who believe that the Slavic be-future was originally a borrowed form. The results of this study will lend support to the idea that the Slavic languages that employ 'be'-type futures developed these forms independently. This investigation has broad significance for the study of the verbal systems of many of the Slavic languages.