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Innovation in language contact

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The be after V-ing gram has been used in representations of Irish English since the seventeenth century. In early texts it often has future meanings that have been regarded as inauthentic because the Irish Gaelic construction that is the source of the gram is a perfect. This article accounts for the coexistence of future and perfect uses as an outcome of the interaction of two types of language transfer: the gram was ‘borrowed’ (‘pull transfer’) into English by English-speakers as well as being ‘imposed’ (‘push transfer’) on English by Gaelic-speakers. In borrowing the gram, English-speakers attributed to after prospective senses that grammaticalise as futures, especially desire and goalward movement. In imposition, Gaelic-speakers and language-shifters used be after V-ing as a perfect, in line with retrospective meanings of after and the semantics of the Gaelic construction. Both transfer types occurred simultaneously, though future uses dominated the record until the mid-eighteenth century. This gave way to a century of change until mid-nineteenth century, and perfect senses have dominated since the 1850s. The timing coincides with the spread of bilingualism and language shift: as more Irish shifted to English, imposition became the dominant transfer type. Thus, future uses are an outcome of ‘negotiation’ in the contact between Gaelic and English: Gaelic contributed the structure and perfect semantics, English the future semantics. Comparison with a crosslinguistic model of future grammaticalisation shows future uses of be after V-ing to conform to the development typical of future grams.

Keywords: Irish English; future; grammaticalisation; hot-news perfect; language contact; language transfer; tense-aspect

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Tromsø

Publication date: January 1, 2004

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  • International Journal for Historical Linguistics

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