This paper provides both a cross-linguistic/diachronical typology and a formal account of (present) perfects. They are treated here as resultative viewpoint tenses, combining insights from both Parson's (1990) and Smith's (1991) aspectual theories. It is a well-known cross-linguistic fact that perfects tend to evolve towards perfective viewpoint tenses, following a so-called perfect continuum in their evolution. Along this continuum from present perfects to past perfectives, we believe that (at least) three broad classes of present perfects can be identified, depending on whether they are capable of (1) describing temporal sequences of events and/or (2) describing temporal sequences of events in discourse. The first criterion hinges on the compositional semantics of perfects, while the second hinges on the interpretation of perfects at the semantics/pragmatics interface—it crucially involves the rhetorical structure of discourse. A SDRT account of the three classes of perfects is proposed here, drawing on the explicit implementation of the semantics/pragmatics interface provided by this framework. It is claimed that of one these three classes, embodied by the passé composé in Middle French, proves that tenses possess an arbitrary, conventional pragmatic contribution paving the way for future semantic changes.
Proceedings of the 2004 Texas Linguistics Society Conference: Issues at the Semantics-Pragmatics Interface
edited by Pascal Denis, Eric McCready, Alexis Palmer, and Brian Reese
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