„German future constructions – past and present: A corpus-based perspective“ is a project funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). It addresses two main questions: a) how speakers of present-day German refer to future events, and b) how the conventions for future reference have changed over the past centuries.
From a historical perspective, we investigate how the future construction werden ‘become’ + infinitive (e.g. ich werde morgen nach Hamburg fahren ‘I will go to Hamburg tomorrow’) developed and which other constructions can be considered predecessors or competitors of this pattern. For example, it is often assumed that modal verb constructions, especially sollen ‘shall’ + Infinitive, were used for future reference in earlier stages of German as well and that they could play a role in the grammaticalization of werden + infinitive as they might have served as analogical templates. In addition, werden + present participle is often discussed as a potential predecessor (es wird regnend, lit. ‘it becomes raining’). This project approaches the highly controversial question of how these different constructions relate to each other with a data-driven approach. We extract all instances of all relevant constructions from the newly available reference corpora of historical stages of German and annotate them for semantic and syntactic criteria. By doing so, we can assess to what degree each construction is actually used for future reference, which of the numerous factors that have been proposed in the literature actually play a role in language users‘ choice of constructions, and how these factors interact with each other.
From a synchronic perspective, we investigate which factors drive the choice between the two most important possibilities to express future reference in present-day German, namely the construction werden + infinitive on the one hand and the so-called futurate present (e.g. ich gehe morgen ins Kino, lit. ‘I go to the cinema tomorrow’) on the other. We assume that register and text type (e.g. conceptually more oral vs. written communication) as well as semantic and syntactic factors play a role. Semantic factors include temporal distance, syntactic ones the occurrence of other constructions with werden ‘become’ in the immediate context or the occurrence in negated or interrogative contexts. Taken together, these studies about historical and present-day conventions of future reference in German can help clarify a number of open questions that have been discussed extensively from a theoretical perspective in the previous literature but that can now be approached on the basis of a substantial amount of empirical data for the first time.