UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Nobody’s Perfect Bertrand, Anne; Aonuki, Yurika; Chen, Sihwei; Davis, Henry, 1958-; Gambarage, Joash; Griffin, Laura; Huijsmans, Marianne; Matthewson, Lisa, 1968-; Reisinger, Daniel; Rullmann, Hotze, 1963-; et al.


This paper challenges the cross-linguistic validity of the tense–aspect category ‘perfect’ by investigating 15 languages from eight different families (Atayal, Brazilian Portuguese, Dutch, English, German, Gitksan, Japanese, Javanese, Korean, Mandarin, Niuean, Québec French, St’át’imcets, Swahili, and Tibetan). The methodology involves using the storyboard ‘Miss Smith’s Bad Day’ to test for the availability of experiential, resultative, recent-past, and continuous readings, as well as lifetime effects, result-state cancellability, narrative progression, and compatibility with definite time adverbials. Results show that the target forms in these languages can be classified into four groups: (a) past perfectives; (b) experientials; (c) resultatives; and (d) hybrids (which allow both experiential and resultative readings). It is argued that the main division is between past perfectives, which contain a ‘pronominal’ tense, on the one hand, and the other three groups on the other, which involve existential quantification, either over times (experiential) or over events (resultative). The methodological and typological implications of the findings are discussed. The main conclusion of the study is that there is no universal category of ‘the perfect’, and that instead, researchers should focus on identifying shared semantic components of tense–aspect categories across languages.

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