Present Perfect

Bertinetto bert.NET at CAEN.IT
Sat Oct 7 18:32:47 UTC 2000

Dear colleagues,
I have a query concerning the Present Perfect, and more precisely the
restriction that I would like to call the "definite time constraint" (DTC).

In Giorgi & Pianesi "Tense and Aspect" (1997), one finds the following claim:
languages with poor verbal morphology, where verbal affixes may only
express one thing at a time, exhibit the restriction to be observed in
English, such that (1b), as opposed to (1a), is ungrammatical:

(1)	a.	John has gone out (now)
	b.	* John has gone out at 5 o' clock.

Indeed, in English, verbal affixes either express tense (e.g. <-ed> in the
Past), or person information (e.g. <-s> in the Present), but these two
informations may never coexist (i.e., there is no form such as *"he
workeds"). This is the ultimate reason why, according to G & P, English
presents the DTC.

However, the empirical coverage of G & P's claim is not impressive. The
only other languages presenting the DTC cited by them, apart from English,
are the Mainland Scandinavian languages. But even disregarding this, I find
this claim fairly puzzling for at least two reasons.

First, I cannot think of any theoretical justification for this claim.

Second, there is at least one language with rich morphology that presents
the DTC, namely Finnish. In this language, e.g., the Past tense is
minimally signalled by the presence of the <i> morpheme, but on top of this
there are personal markers. See for instance <men-i-n> "I went". Now

(2)	a.	Pekka meni kotiin kello 5
	 	P.    went home   5 o' cl.
	b.	* Pekka on mennyt kotiin kello 5
	 	  P.    is gone   home   5 o' cl.

So, at least this side of the entailment does not seem to work; if a
language has rich verbal morphology, it does not necessarily obey the DTC.
(Actually, there are rather special cases in which (2b) turns out to be
appropriate, but in normal cases it is not)

My question to you is twofold:

A) Do you know of other languages with rich verbal morphology (like
Finnish) that present the DTC?

B) Do you know of other languages with poor verbal morphology (like
English) that do not present the DTC?

The assumption underlying question A is already falsified by the Finnish
case presented above, but there might be other examples. As to question B,
I entirely depend on you. My guess is that, at least in the domain of
Creole languages, one should be able to find this sort of examples.

Thanks very much,

Pier Marco Bertinetto
Scuola Normale Superiore

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