In Icelandic, there are more timing expressions than you can shake a stick at, so in this instalment of our series about time we’ll focus on semi-deictic timing.
In Deictic Timing we learned that deictic terms are relative to the now: earlier today changes meaning depending on if you say it on Saturday or Sunday. They rely on context to be understood, and their meaning is always clear from context. Semi-deictic timing expressions, then, are…sort of deictic.
The semi-deictic terms take their meaning from the now but are not perfectly clear from context, so the words næsti (next) or síðasti (last) are used.
These are terms like this weekend. On a Monday it most likely means the weekend that just ended, on a Friday it most likely means the weekend that’s about to start, but on a Wednesday…some clarification is needed. “Do you mean next weekend or last weekend?” is not an unreasonable question, whereas “Do you mean next tomorrow or last tomorrow?” makes no sense whatsoever.
In this article we’ll look at some semi-deictic terms relating to:
1) the weekend
2) the days of the week
3) the seasons
4) the week, and finally
5) the months.
Helgi is a man’s name. Coincidentally, it is also a feminine noun meaning weekend. The ways of Icelandic are inscrutable. Um helgina is the Icelandic equivalent to this weekend. If the context isn’t clear, (um) næstu helgi (next weekend) and (um) síðustu /seinustu helgi (last weekend) are used. The um is optional and its presence or absence does not affect the sentence in any real way. The plural, um helgar, indicates repeating events (events that happen every weekend).
Síðasti and seinasti are interchangeable to mean last. This is equally true for the days, seasons, weeks and months as it is for the weekends. We will stick with síðasti in this article, but don’t be surprised to hear native speakers use seinasti, or even skipping between the two.
Dagur is a man’s name, and also a masculine noun meaning day. The days of the week all end in -dagur. This -day (this Monday, this Tuesday, this Saturday etc.) is equivalent to á -daginn (á mánudaginn, á þriðjudaginn, á laugardaginn etc.). Næsti -dagur indicates next -day, and síðasti -dagur indicates last -day. The plural á -dögum (lit. on the -days, i.e. on the Mondays etc.) indicates regularly recurring events. The days are not capitalised in Icelandic.
Næsta fimmtudag and síðasta föstudag are in the accusative case despite the fact there is not a verb or preposition preceding them (usually the accusative is only used following a verb or a preposition). This is the temporal accusative which is explored fully in Non-Deictic Timing. Here’s the short version: when talking about time it’s okay to use the accusative without a verb or preposition. The temporal accusative also makes an appearance for árstíðir here below.
The temporal accusative may be handy for advanced students to understand, and so it is mentioned here, but it can safely be ignored and the structures simply memorised if one is not interested in the deep grammar.
Árstíðir is a band’s name, and also the plural of the feminine noun árstíð meaning season. The four seasons are vetur, vor, sumar, haust (winter, spring, summer, fall / autumn). Í vetur is the Icelandic equivalent to this winter (all the seasons take the same structure, so í vor, í sumar, í haust), næsta vor indicates next spring, síðasta sumar is last summer and the plural á veturna / á vorin / á sumrin / á haustin (lit. in the winters / springs / summers / falls) indicates regularly recurring events.
Vika (week) and mánuður (month) are not true semi-deictic terms, since unlike the true semi-deictic terms, a) they are perfectly clear from context, b) they take a preposition (í (in)) to indicate next and last week / month, and c) repeating events aren’t indicated with the plural. They are included here for completeness’ sake.
Vika is the Icelandic equivalent to week. Í vikunni means in this week, and unlike the true semi-deictic terms explored above there is no ambiguity about what week this refers to. Í næstu viku means next week, and í síðustu viku last week. Í hverri viku indicates a regularly recurring event, literally translating as in each week or in every week.
Í takes the dative in the above examples because they don't indicate motion toward something (learn more about this in í, á, yfir, undir). Essentially, the events are “in” the week, not moving toward it. This is also the case for mánuður below.
Mánuður is the Icelandic equivalent to month. Í þessum mánuði means in this month, which carries no ambiguity as to which month is referred to. Í næsta mánuði means next month, and í síðasta mánuði last month. Í hverjum mánuði indicates a regularly recurring event, literally translating as in each month or in every month.
Semi-deictic timing expressions are terms which take their meaning from the now but are not perfectly clear (except for vika and mánuður). Næsti and síðasti / seinasti indicate next or last, and they require the temporal accusative when indicating timing. The plural is generally used to indicate repetition of events.