Perfect variations in Romance



The morpho-syntactic configuration auxiliary (have or be) + past participle known as the have-perfect functions as a tense-aspect category in many Western European languages. Synchronic variation within Romance nicely illustrates the developmental pattern described as the aoristic drift, whereby the perfect develops over time into a perfective past with full-fledged past meanings. A parallel corpus study of L’Étranger by Albert Camus (1942) and its translations using the Translation Mining methodology provides empirical data supporting the view that modern French, Romanian and Italian make a more liberal use of the perfect, whereas the perfect distribution in Spanish is closer to (but not identical to) English. Catalan occupies an intermediate position and Portuguese has the most restricted perfect among the Romance languages. We argue that this variation is best captured by a perfect scale, without a clear cut-off point between perfect and perfective past meaning. The meaning ingredients that govern the distribution of the have-perfect across Romance languages emerge from the parallel corpus. They include lexical, compositional and discourse semantics, and range from sensitivity to aspectual class, pluractionality, hodiernal and pre-hodiernal past time reference to narration. 


tense, aspect, perfect, variation, Romance languages


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