The present perfect : a corpus-based investigation
On the basis of an investigation of a corpus of 5.5 million words, this thesis analyses the use of the present perfect in modem American and British English. The investigation traces the development of the present perfect from its origins as a structure with adjectival meaning to its modern-day use as an aspectual verb form. A frequency analysis tests the claims of various writers that the present perfect is losing ground against the preterite and is less frequent in American than in British English. Neither claim is supported by the results of this analysis. A temporal specifier analysis investigates the co-occurrence of a large number of adverbials with the various verb forms. It finds that certain groups of specifiers which have hitherto been considered markers for the present perfect are in fact very poor indicators. Specifiers indicating a period of time lasting up to the moment of utterance, however, are found to be very reliable indicators. With one exception no significant difference was found between the British and American corpora in this respect. A functional-semantic analysis examines the various theories of the present perfect against the background of the results of the empirical investigation and finds them to be insufficient in one or more respects. In the final chapter the division between tense and aspect is shown to be artificial and a model of the present perfect is presented which is based on the idea of multilayered aspectual values. The model is centred on the unifying concept of phragmatisation - the closing of the event time-frame. According to this model, discourse topics involving the present perfect are perceived to describe an event which takes place in a time frame which is not closed to the deictic zero point at the moment of utterance. The final section describes which factors are operative in the phragmatisation or closing of event time frames.