Towards a Unified View of the Present Perfect. A Comparative Study on Catalan, English and Gikuyu

Student thesis: Doctoral thesis


In this thesis, I examine the properties of the Present Perfect (henceforth PrP) across different languages. In particular, I present a comparative study of Catalan, English and Gĩkũyũ, a Bantu language that has 'graded tenses'. The main question explored in this thesis is how we can account in a uniform way for the cross-linguistic pattern found in Catalan and English. In chapter 1, I begin my investigation by reviewing the main readings and theories of perfect. In chapter 2, I examine one of the most striking differences between the uses of the PrP in Catalan and English namely, a hodiernal reading of the PrP present in Catalan but not in English. I claim that the main property of the PrP in Catalan is not that is has an extra reading that English does not possess, but rather that hodiernal is a subtype of the existential PrP that allows, in addition, for a temporal modification of the event by punctual time adverbials. I suggest that a progressive meaning of the present tense, i. e. , the possibility of locating an event at the utterance time, is connected to the compatibility of the PrP to appear with punctual time adverbials. In particular, the Catalan present can be used to report an ongoing event but the English present has a habitual interpretation for almost all types of eventualities, apart for states. In chapter 3, I also examine a type of hodiernal reading found in Gĩkũyũ, a language typologically not related to either Catalan or English. Gĩkũyũ has a specific prefix, i. e. , a hodiernal temporal remoteness morpheme, which places the eventuality on the day surrounding the utterance time. Within this temporal interval, the eventuality can be fixed on the timeline. In chapter 4, I show that another major difference between Catalan and English has to do with the universal reading, which is a prototypical reading of the PrP in English. Catalan, however, has other means apart from the PrP to yield a universal meaning, such as, for instance, the present tense or periphrastic temporal constructions (i. e. , portar 'carry' X time + gerund). I claim that the universal meaning is not encoded in the semantics of the perfect per se, but is a reading that is always ensured by adverbial support. To derive a hodiernal and a universal reading, I follow Pancheva & von Stechow's (2004) weak semantics of the Perfect Time Span (PTS) and distinguish between the PTS and the reference time intervals. The temporal relation between the PTS and the reference time in English is that of coextension, whereas in Catalan can be that of identity or intersection. This latter temporal relation is made explicit via temporal modification. In chapter 5, one type of temporal adverbial that I study in depth is since adverbials. I compare the grammatical properties of English since-adverbials, which have been analysed as perfect-level adverbials (Dowty 1979; Vlach 1993; Iatridou et al. 2001), with Catalan des de-adverbials. I argue against the claim that either the perfect tense or prepositions like since are ambiguous between a universal and an existential interpretation. I show that an analysis based on the grammatical properties of the internal structure of the temporal path denoted by des de or since can contribute to a more fine-grained derivation of universal and existential interpretations of PrP sentences modified by since-type of intervals in both languages.
Date of Award14 Jul 2015
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorOlga Borik (Director) & Josep Maria Brucart Marraco (Director)


  • Perfect
  • Temporal modification

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