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How to kick the infinitive habit

From:Gary Shannon <fiziwig@...>
Date:Sunday, October 1, 2006, 17:51
Does a conlang need the infinitive? I don't think so. In English, sentences can
be analyzed in a way that does not even admit the existence of the infinitive.
Take the sentence:

     I want to go home.

Conventional wisdom tells us that "to go" is the infinitive, but is it?
Consider the colloquial equivalent:

     I wanna go home.

The existence of the word "wanna" suggests that the natural analysis is
grouping "to" with "want" in order to create the modifier "wanna", often
spelled "want to".

There are other equivalent pairs of modifiers that are functionally identical
such as "must" and "have to" as in "I must go home." and "I have to go home.".
Neither "must" not "have to" takes the infinitive because in this
interpretation the infinitive does not exist.

Nor can the infinitive be split if it does not exist: "I want to finally go
home." or the equivalent "I wanna finally go home." would be considered
correct. To put the adverb "finally" in the middle of a compound word like
"want to" sounds unnatural: "I want finally to go home." That doesn't work
because the equivalent using "wanna", "I wan-finally-na go home.", requires the
adverb be placed right in the middle of the single word "wanna" which is not
permitted. Likewise "I must finally go home" is obviously correct and replacing
"must" with its exact equivalent "have to" gives "I have to finally go home."
and not the unnatural "I have finally to go home." since that would require the
equivalent "I mu-finally-st go home." which is not permitted.

Another example of natural analysis is the colloquial phrase "how to". The
bookstore has a "how to" section, not a "how" section, clearly implying that in
"How to swim", "to" belongs with "how" and not with "swim".

Where "to" in the so-called infinitive cannot be analyzed as part of the
preceding modifier I suggest that it is not really an infinitive at all, but an
alternate spelling of the gerund. "To sing makes me happy." "Singing makes me
happy." In this case "To sing" and "Singing" have the equivalent noun-like
function in the sentences. "Being or not being. That is the question." Clearly
a gerund and not an infinitive, since the infinitive does not need to exist.

So a conlang could easily do away with the infinitive and make the syntax more
regular in the process. Single words for modifiers like "want to", "will",
"have to", "must", "am going to", "should", "can not", means that only one rule
needs to exist concerning the placement of modifiers and the form of the
associated verb. They are all interchangable in every instance: "I (want to) go
home.", "I (am going to) go home.", "I (must) go home.", "I (can not) go home."

--gary

Replies

Andreas Johansson <andjo@...>
Philip Newton <philip.newton@...>
H. S. Teoh <hsteoh@...>
Henrik Theiling <theiling@...>