A cross-linguistic discourse analysis of the Perfect

Department of French/Uil-OTS, Utrecht University, Kromme Nieuwegracht 29, 3512 HD Utrecht, The Netherlands
Journal of Pragmatics 01/2007; DOI: 10.1016/j.pragma.2006.11.006
Source: OAI

ABSTRACT Since Reichenbach (1947), the Present Perfect has been discussed in relation to the Simple Past. The Reichenbachian characterization E-R,S has led to the view that the English Present Perfect, with its restrictions on modification by time adverbials and its resistance to narrative structure is the prototypical perfect. If the Pluperfect is different, or if counterparts of the Present Perfect in other languages behave differently, that is because they are less prototypical perfects. In this paper, we argue that the most important cross-linguistic differences do not require a different sentential semantics, but should rather be explained in terms of different discourse level properties. We investigate Perfect constructions in four languages: English, French, Dutch and German. We argue that all four are Reichenbachian Perfects, and have very similar aspectual properties. Moreover, they introduce the same discourse configuration of Elaboration. However, they differ in the additional constraints imposed upon the possible relations between the event time E and other times or events in the sentence or the surrounding discourse. These differences imply that we can use a Present Perfect construction to tell a story in French and German, but not in English or Dutch.

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