A Semantic Analysis of the Slavic Future Perfect

Marika L. Whaley, Ohio State University

The Slavic construction of the perfective nonpast of the verb byti ‘be(come)’ in combination with l-participles is typically characterized as a future perfect construction; i.e. a tense construction that describes an action or event that takes place prior to a future event. Although attested extremely rarely in Old Church Slavonic texts, the construction is more widespread in later legal and administrative documents, especially those in East Slavic languages. Moreover, modern languages such as Polish, Kashubian, and Slovene, and dialectal Ukrainian, Slovak, and Serbo-Croatian, employ a structurally similar construction as a pure future.

This construction is considered comparable to equivalent tenses in other languages such as Classical Latin and modern English, but an analysis of uses of this construction in OCS as well as Old Rusian suggests the presence of a greater degree of subjectivity, even irrealis, in its semantics. Many examples of so-called future perfects do not express a clear future-tense reference at all; rather, they express a displaced perception of state, the realization of which occurs at a moment posterior to the moment of speech.

An additional problem regarding the future perfect is that many of the modern future constructions that resemble it are restricted to imperfective l-participles. This fact makes it difficult to argue that these modern constructions evolved directly from the future perfect construction.

My paper presents a more precise semantic description of the so-called future perfect construction in Slavic that includes its apparent nuance of displaced perception. This goal is achieved by first performing a context-based analysis of several examples, and then incorporating the results into a formal semantic description called a reductive paraphrase.

This analysis facilitates my ongoing investigation of the structurally similar modern future constructions. A more precise understanding of the semantics of the ancient construction, especially the imperfective future perfect, might lend insight into the problem regarding the admissibility of perfective complements in these constructions.