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Is use of the future continuous incorrect here ?

Posted: Sat Sep 11, 2010 2:01 pm
by daleglendale
Would you consider the following use of the future continuous tense to be grammatically incorrect here ? If so, why ? "Many of the world's languages will be continuing to disappear unless an effort is made to save them. " Thanks in advance for your input.

Posted: Sat Sep 11, 2010 3:11 pm
by fluffyhamster
It seems a bit unnecessarily wordy (compared to simply 'will continue to disappear'), but I wouldn't call it grammatically incorrect.

Is use of the future continuous incorrect here ?

Posted: Sat Sep 11, 2010 3:43 pm
by daleglendale
I agree that it sounds awkward, but i'm wondering if there is a rule for this.
I suppose we could talk about a deliberate plan, "I'll be continuing to monitor your progress". But I wonder if it is possible to say that anything "will be continuing to happen" on its own ? Such as, "It will be continuing to snow".


Posted: Wed Sep 15, 2010 1:59 am
by Heath
Is it possibly a choice to put more emphasis on the temporariness of the situation?

Odd, though - it seems the writer should intend it to sound more permanent or long term, because that would support his argument for taking steps to solve the problem.

Re: Duration?

Posted: Fri Sep 17, 2010 5:31 am
by LarryLatham
Heath wrote:Is it possibly a choice to put more emphasis on the temporariness of the situation?
An excellent analytical point, Heath. I wouldn't worry about the rest, though, because the writer doesn't seem to be making much of an argument for taking steps, but merely noting what he expects if nothing is done. Perhaps I would feel differently if I had benefit of greater context.

I rather agree with Fluffy's recognition that the original sentence, while grammatical, seems unnecessarily wordy.

Towards your question, Daleglendale, I wonder if you are really asking, "Is there a rule that prevents this construction?" To that the answer is, "No." At least I am not aware of any preventive rule. Awkward is not linguistically criminal.

Posted: Fri Sep 17, 2010 5:55 am
by Stephen Jones
The continuous aspect emphasizes the time something is taking place in. There is no suggestion this is intended here, so I would dismiss the sentence as incorrect.

Posted: Sat Sep 18, 2010 10:28 am
by daleglendale
Larry, although it's true that "awkwardness" isn't lingustically criminal, it might be deemed something that a native speaker would never utter naturally and therefore, would be incorrect. Maybe the word RULE is a bit strong here. We could use the term USAGE.
I still believe the problem lies in the verb "continue" - which could either be stative or dynamic - Unemployment continues to be a problem or Unemployment is continuing to be a problem
Hope I haven't opened up another can of worms here !

Posted: Sat Sep 18, 2010 4:30 pm
by LarryLatham
Oh, why not. Cans of worms can be all gnarly and interesting.

I believe your point about whether a native speaker would or would not utter something naturally is an excellent one. In this case, you are probably right, native English speakers wouldn't. But I also believe you are incorrect to call it therefore incorrect. "Unusual" would be a better description, I think, or perhaps "non-standard," or even as you did: "unnatural." Personally, I prefer to reserve "incorrect" for something that is clearly not allowed by existing rules, and as I said, I am not aware of any such rule in this case. There are millions of constructions that would strike native speakers as odd, yet convey their intended meaning quite well and break no extant grammatical rules. If teachers tell students these are incorrect, the danger is great, in my view, that this will reinforce the already much too common view that there is a rule for everything in English. There isn't. There are some rules. They don't always fit. We should differentiate for our students so that they can begin to notice what is natural.

Don't you think?

Posted: Sat Sep 18, 2010 6:35 pm
by daleglendale
Yes, I agree. Trying to speak naturally is a challenging skill. This is particularly evident when translating. As for grammar, whenever we discuss a "rule" in class, I always remind students that there always seem to be exceptions - this not only allows for the real possiblity of a variation from the norm, but also covers any oversights I might make in my teaching LOL.

Posted: Sat Sep 18, 2010 8:27 pm
by LarryLatham
daleglendale wrote:... I always remind students that there always seem to be exceptions ...
Oh-oh. Here comes another can of worms perhaps.

I disagree, in the spirit, I hope, of a good discussion. Personally I hate it when people, especially English teachers, who, after all, are supposed to possess relative expertise in the grammar, are so quick to suggest there are "exceptions." (I certainly do not mean to single you out, Daleglendale, and in fact have noted that you seem to be sharper than average, even maybe sharper than the average teacher.) Technically, it is true that there are a few "exceptions." But they are few indeed, and almost without exception, they are there because of English teachers in times past. Grammar "experts" that they are, they too often insist that such and such is "correct," while departures from it are "wrong" or "incorrect." They forget, however, that English is a living language, and changes with time. One need only read Chaucer or [well, I originally typed in here the author of "A tale of Two Cities", but the program seems to think his name is an obsenity, and so it *beeped* it out!!] to realize that. But even the "natural" English of only a few decades ago, during WWII for example, was decidedly different than that of today. It will come as no surprise to any who have met me before on this forum that I think Michael Lewis put it succinctly. Imagine, if you will, a scattering of rocks on the beach, rolled about in the wave action, and that these rocks represent rules of grammar. The action of the waves smooths them and alters them as time proceeds. If an imaginary English teacher decides that some of the rocks need to remain sacrosanct, and picks them up and holds them for a few decades, these rocks will later be "exceptions" to the rocks/rules that have been in use over the same time by the waves.

The current problem seems to be that some of the "rules" that English teachers know, and students try to memorize, are wrong. It isn't, for one example, quite true that simple past tense verbs are always used to speak about events in past time, and we can elicit some sample instances: "Would you mind if I opened the window?" But grammar books and teachers continue to inculcate students with "rules" that do not explain all uses of simple past tense verbs. So one of the things that teachers have a responsibility to study, at least in my view, if they want to think of themselves as professionals, is what are the real rules of English. This is not always going to ingratiate them with their peers, and sometimes not even with their students, who read the grammar books and want so much to believe that what they say is rock solid.

Have you read Steven Pinker's Words and Rules? If you haven't, pick it up. It's an excellent starting point for some "post-grad" study. Another useful read for classroom teachers is Mark Bartram and Richard Walton's Correction - a Positive Approach to Language Mistakes. I'm sure there are many other references which call into question the way teachers and students commonly interact with regard to errors, slips, lapses, and yes, mistakes.

Please forgive me if I have become pedantic here...that was not my intention at first. It is only that you said something, Daleglendale, that triggered one of my pet peeves. Sorry if I have rambled on too much.

Posted: Sat Sep 18, 2010 10:00 pm
by Lorikeet
Ah nice to hear from you on this topic again, Larry. I did buy and read "The English Verb" and used it in several higher level classes to give them an alternate way of thinking about verbs. I appreciated your suggestion that we read it.

Posted: Sun Sep 19, 2010 8:15 am
by JuanTwoThree
"As a result of this temporary setback they are continuing to disappear and for the next few years many of the world's languages will be continuing to disappear unless an effort is made to save them "

OK, it's imaginary but it's a recondite context in which a recondite structure might be used. You need the previous pictures of a comic strip for the last one to make sense, for it to be 'correct'.

As for exceptions, there aren't (m)any. I'm tempted to say 'any'. There are plenty of exceptions to the rules as they are given but that means we need better rules, at least for ourselves. Or, to be more generous, rules only work in the world for which they were intended and the exceptions are buttings-in from worlds where the more complex rules apply.

As I understand it, which is not very much, for us to understand refraction and reflection, light 'needs' to travel in straight lines. Although it doesn't. It's a rule that only works over shortish distances in a world that the original theorists could comprehend. Anomalies start to occur over larger distances and so a better rule is formulated. You can still assume and teach that light travels in straight lines if you carefully stick within the original confines.

Language though is a bit more blurred. You can protect youself only for a very short time with the incantation "some is used in affirmatives and any in negatives and questions" It's not long before hordes of orc-like exceptions start assailing that one. Which goes for all the other 'rules' with very short 'best before' dates.

Posted: Sun Sep 19, 2010 4:01 pm
by daleglendale
I'm not going to get into a debate concerning the advisability of attempting to teach/pass along/faclitate to learners "rules" in language (or even whether they exist or not). Perhaps a better word might be "tendencies" - which most students tend (no pun intended) to take comfort in and might also find useful in "understanding" a language (or making it more approachable)
Nor will I take exception to the notion that in the sentence "Would you mind if I opened the window?", the word "opened" is the past tense - though I always thought it was the subjunctive - a concept that any native speaker of Spanish, for example, would find less than challenging.
The real purpose of posting my original question concerning the use of the future continous in the sentence "Many of the world's languages will be continuing to disappear unless an effort is made to save them", was to see if native speakers - experts and non-experts alike - would agree on the "correctness" of the statement. You see, I lifted this sentence from a real B1 level exam, which I thought posed questions that were far too challenging for candidates doing the test.
So, thanks to the feedback/debate here (and to my real-life colleagues ), I think I can safely declare that the question (like much of the exam) is decidely unfair.
Finally, a word of gratitude Larry, for bestowing upon me the compliment "you seem to be sharper than average, even maybe sharper than the average teacher" It's heart-warming to know that all those years I have spent teaching, teacher-training, giving talks, etc., have not gone

Posted: Sun Sep 19, 2010 4:42 pm
by LarryLatham
No debate at all is needed, Daleglendale, and I agree with your finding that the original sentence is bogus on an exam. It would seem to fall into that area where the exam writers apparently want to "trick" students, or trip them up unnecessarily. What I would like to know is, "Where do these exam writers come from?" "What can they possibly be thinking?" Whom do they think they are helping?"

Someday, perhaps far in the future, Daleglendale, we can have some fun debating about the "subjunctive," which I believe is a totally unnecessary, confusing, and convoluted distortion of English grammar, and should be thrown out entirely. But that is for another time and place.

Finally, Daleglendale, I don't spend a lot of time here anymore, but I used to when I was actively teaching and for a while after I retired. I like it because, more than any other "place" I have found, it seems to be peopled with smart, eager, willing, knowledgeable, and generally sweet-tempered folks who, being true professionals within the ESL community-at-large, want to share and expand their understanding of the field. Teachers who come here generally love what they do, and are keen to do it as best they can for their students. I admire the attitude, and I'm sorry to have to say that I met far too many "teachers" along the way who in no way measured up to the standards I find in the group of teachers who meet here with regularity. Some in this group are true experts. Many of the others are, like me, knowledgeable enough to hold their own quite well in the discussions, debates, and arguments, yet fall short of 'expertise.' Still others join-in here because they're gaining strength as newer teachers, and have a professional attitude, wanting to become the best teacher they can be. I hope you like it for similar reasons, and continue to contribute as you have here in this particular little discussion. There are occasional dog fights, but not many considering that "any random group of 10 English teachers will likely parse any given sentence 10 different ways." Personally, I will continue to stop in now and then when I have a little available time from my "busy schedule as a retiree." It's just fun.

Posted: Sun Sep 19, 2010 6:48 pm
by LarryLatham
JuanTwoThree wrote:"...As for exceptions, there aren't (m)any. I'm tempted to say 'any'. There are plenty of exceptions to the rules as they are given but that means we need better rules, at least for ourselves...
Bravo, Juan! And I'm so glad you added, " least for ourselves." You rightly remind us all that sometimes the rules are for we teachers, not necessarily for our students. Some of the 'real' rules are admittedly complex, and would be difficult for students to grasp. But teachers are far better teachers if they truly understand what they are supposedly teaching, even when they find it necessary to simplify it for students. A teacher who knows only the rules that are printed in student textbooks is not a well prepared teacher. Obviously, what suffices for a student at the beginning end of learning the language will not be good enough for a more experienced student who has encountered more than a few of these so-called "exceptions" along the way. A good teacher will know the complexities, and be prepared for the sophisticated student, but also able to simplify for the beginner, for whom convolution will be a disincentive.

I couldn't agree with you more, Juan. When you understand the real rules (and sometimes it is very hard to find what those are), there are damned few exceptions to deal with. If you are confronted with a beginner student (or one unprepared for complexity) who has encountered an exception, sometimes you just have to say, "We'll treat that as an exception for now, but later you will gain enough knowledge to understand why that is correct as it stands." In my experience, students usually can handle that.