The "Proximity and Distance" files.
I want to start up a collection of links to, and poster's examples of, the way the perception of what is close to us and what is far from us subjectively and objectively effects our choice of language.
Please join in.
I'll begin with verb choice and what is commonly known as the Past Simple tense.
One of the main reasons for using that tense is to express things as distant from the speaker. Three things are involved here:
Distance in TIME
Distance of LIKELIHOOD/POSSIBILITY
Distance in SOCIAL RELATIONSHIP
Examples of each:
I went to the cinema last night/month/year.(DISTANCE IN TIME)
I could swim when I was five. (Time involved but possibility is the main focus.
I COULD come tomorrow if you like? (Time involved but possibility is the main focus.)
Would you help me with my bags? (SOCIAL RELATIONSHIP)
Some students get confused when trying to understand why the Past Simple is used to express more than just past time. The above can be used to give them an idea of why.
More later, or please feel free to contribute other examples of proximity and distance in this and other areas of language use.
Proximity and distance with "this" and "that".
1. Two people are looking at a group photo taken at a wedding.
Sue (pointing to each person): "That's Tom, my older brother and that's his wife Sheila. That's Gran, Cousin Frank and that's...what's her name? Ah yes, that's Myoko, his girlfriend. That there is..."
2. Another two people, in another time and place, are looking at a different group photo taken at a different wedding.
Barry (pointing to each person): "This is Madge, my younger sister and this is her husband Mark. This is Mom and Pop of course, Cousin Elmo and this, this is...what's her name? Ah yes, this is Chloe, his girlfriend. This here is..."
Can you explain why one speaker should use "that" and another speaker use "this" in almost identical situations?
Re: The "Proximity and Distance" files.
Here's another interesting example of subjective closeness and distancing:
If I were you, I'd tell her all about it.
If you are a pacifist, I'm Martin Luther King.
The "past" (distant) form in the protasis ("if" clause) of the first example followed by the "would" form of the modal creates an obvious hypothetical distancing between reality and unreality. In the second example, the listener is the one who has used the close form of the verb because he believes, or wants to make others believe he is a pacifist.