past perfect for past

Danielle E. Cyr dcyr at
Sat Aug 14 11:58:42 UTC 2010

I am afraid I made a terminological mistake. Rather than past perfect I meant to
say present perfect. I guess I mistook past perfect for French "passé composé"
in my mother tongue.

Still I think my immigrant students' case is interesting.

Salutations cordiales,

Quoting Damien Hall <djh514 at>:

> I'm forwarding (below) an exchange I've had with Danielle Cyr (York U.,
> Toronto) about this over the last few days. Many of her students (who are
> mostly not first-language English speakers) see any semantic or pragmatic
> difference between past perfect and past. She offers to ask a colleague to
> administer Dahl's TMA questionnaire (1985?) to them, if anyone is
> interested (as she herself is away from Toronto at the moment). It's not my
> area, but the offer is there in case anyone else is interested!
> Damien
> > Danielle said:
> >
> > > My students at York University in Toronto are from a highly
> > > multicultural and multilingual background. Very few of them, and even
> > > fewer of their parents, have English as their first language. Most of
> > > them, however, have had their high school years in Canada. They do not
> > > have the faintest notion of the difference between simple past and past
> > > perfect, especially of the resultative aspect in past perfect. Only a
> > > couple of mature students still know the difference.
> I replied:
> > This is very interesting! So do you mean that many of your students use
> > the past perfect and the simple past forms interchangeably, with the
> > meaning of simple past? Or do they use only one of the forms but with
> > both meanings?
> Danielle replied:
> I have not done any research on what they use in specific contexts. I have
> only noticed their puzzlement when I explain that there is a semantic and
> pragmatic difference between the two forms. For them the two forms seem to
> be more or less synonymic. When I try to trigger the resultative aspect of
> the past perfect and present perfect most students respond by adding the
> adverb 'already' + the perfect (which is consistent with Osten Dahl and
> Joan Bybee's research of 1985). I am on sabbatical right now and away from
> Toronto. If you are interested I could ask a colleague to apply Dahl's TMA
> questionnaire with the students and try to see what comes out.
> --
> Damien Hall
> University of York
> Department of Language and Linguistic Science
> Heslington
> YO10 5DD
> UK
> Tel. (office) +44 (0)1904 432665
>      (mobile) +44 (0)771 853 5634
> Fax  +44 (0)1904 432673

"The only hope we have as human beings is to learn each other's languages.  Only
then can we truly hope to understand one another."

Professor Danielle E. Cyr
Department of French Studies
York University
Toronto, ON, Canada, M3J 1P3
Tel. 1.416.736.2100 #310180
FAX. 1.416.736.5924
dcyr at

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