Thursday, February 21, 2013

I Am Married Tomorrow

M. Keith Chen at Yale offers a fascinating study about the different effects of languages that do distinguish between present and future, such as English, and those that do not, such as German:

Speakers of languages that do not distinguish between the present and the future save more money, retire with more wealth, smoke less, practice safer sex, and are less obese, according to Chen’s findings.
I often try to get students to think about their future marriages now, to plan as strategically for their family life as they do for their careers.

The example Chen uses is Morgen regnet es - "morning raining is" - as the German equivalent of "It will rain tomorrow."

I may get students to try saying "I am married tomorrow" to see if that gives them a more future-oriented view of family life.


Victoria Wheeler said...

That's not at all a correct translation of the German, however, although it ultimately does not impact his argument. "Es" is not a verb, it's a pronoun for a general "it"; the phrase is still present and not future tense, but it's more like, "Morning it rains."

Gruntled said...

Thank you, Victoria. So how would I say I am married tomorrow, or the best equivalent?

Victoria Wheeler said...

Well, you could say "Ich heirate morgen," which is essentially "I get married tomorrow."

I will point out that marriage as a state of being does require future tenses, though. "Ich bin verheiratet" is "I am married," while "Ich werde heiraten" is the equivalent of "I will be married" or "I would like to be married."

Gruntled said...

So is Chen right on the main starting point that German does not distinguish between present and future tenses?

Victoria Wheeler said...

Well, only somewhat. He is correct in that, if you're giving a time in the future, like tomorrow or next week or Friday, then you usually just use present tense, not unlike in English. "Ich fliege naechste Freitag nach Frankreich" is the equivalent of "I fly to France next Friday." Germans do tend to use this construction more frequently than English-speakers, though.

There is definitely a Future tense in German, though, that has to be used for states of being. For instance, "Ich werde am Sonntag 25 Jahre alt" is "Sunday I will be 25 years old." (That's opposed to "Sunday I am 25 years old," which isn't correct.) It also has to be used if there is no date, to indicate the future. For instance, "Du wirst einkaufen gehen" is how you would say, "You will go shopping." It also -can- be used even with dates for emphasis. For instance, to re-use a former example, you could say "Du wirst morgen einkaufen gehen," which is "You will go shopping in the morning."

Much more succinctly: He is wrong in implying there is no distinction all the time, but they distinguish less than English-speakers do.