AGAIN ON THE NATURE OF THE ENGLISH PERFECT - IS IT TENSE OR ASPECT?
Discussing issues such as Aspect, Aspectuality, the Perfect, is "slippery" ground for various reasons - there have been multiple and sometimes differing views treating and exemplifying nature of above mentioned categories. This is not an accidental situation of things, fact, due, on the one hand, to difficulties in treating aspectuality in different languages, having or not grammaticalized aspectual distinctions, and on the other, to quite diverging opinions on the essence of so-called Present Perfect, which will be named later on in this paper just Perfect. Current article puts forward ideas and arguments adhering to Perfect aspect view. To elucidate my opinion I shall start with a few notes on temporality and aspectuality presenting these categories’ basic characteristics, then I shall pursue with a brief overview of major existing ideas on Perfect, together with my own remarks, observations, arguments and diagrams leading to Perfect aspect standpoint defence. It will be proposed that English Perfect1 can be considered as a kind of third, combined, really specific, interesting and cumulative by its features aspect, to be treated on a level with commonly accepted Perfective and Imperfective.
Tense, as well as aspect, quite complementary categories, are studied within the framework of larger Temporality and Aspectuality. Thus, temporality (Bondarko 1971, 1972, 1983 in Boteva 2000), being a functional-semantic category combining wide range of temporal relationships linguistic means, possesses field structure including nucleus (morphological tense markers) and periphery (various language levels elements, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, etc. with temporal connotations). Consequently, and in accordance with numerous linguists’ perspective, such as Quirk (1985), Comrie (1998), Brinton (1988), Cohen (1989), Downing & Locke (1992), "...tense is a deictic category, i.e. locates situations in time, usually with reference to the present moment, though also with reference to other situations" (Comrie 1998: 5, italic is mine); activities are chronologically positioned along conventionally accepted time axis, designating through morphologically determined verb forms anteriority, simultaneity and posteriority (Downing & Locke 1992: 354, 355). Thus, due to inflexional morphology and deicticity, English temporal system comprises two tense forms only - present, unmarked and past, marked, opposition terms (Quirk 1985: 176; Downing and Locke 1992: 355; Valeika & Buitkiené 2003: 76).
Aspectuality as functional-semantic category as well, does not refer to events positioning along time axis, but it rather provides, in contrast with temporality, various data as to process internal structure. English does not display, with a few exceptions, action mode (aktionsart)2 or aspect morphological markers, which is the case with Slavonic languages; so, English aspectuality builds predominantly upon peripheral markers, such as tenses, aspectual periphrases, verb’s inherent lexical meaning, prepositions, articles, plurality, conjunctions, adverbials, co- and con-textual, pragmatic factors34.
As stipulated by some linguists, aspect (in most cases these definitions refer to aspectuality rather than to aspect since it is traditionally concerned with perfective / imperfective distinctions)5 holds the following features:
Even though already quoted definitions may not present aspect and aktionsart distinctions7, subsuming these categories under the label of aspect, basic features of aspect are discernible and commonly agreed upon; it relates to boundedness as bounds and intervals are exact manifestations of ongoing or completed markers; types of bounds and intervals reveal situation’s "internal constituency". To sum up, generally accepted Perfective and Imperfective aspect and contingent aktionsarten, such as ingressive (inchoative), continuative, repetitive, punctual and egressive (terminative) can be represented by means of specific time intervals and bounds, as for example in Stambolieva (2008: 77, 78):
Fig. 1. - an open interval scheme depicting imperfective situations
Fig. 2. - a closed interval scheme depicting perfective situations
Fig. 3. - a closed-open interval scheme depicting inchoative situations
Fig. 4. - an open-closed interval scheme depicting terminative situations8
Why should I put such a stress on bounds? It is not unfounded as boundedness is the expression of aspect and "the presence of even one bound is sufficient to define a situation as bounded" (ibid.: 78). Aspectuality, namely aspect and aktionsart related phenomena, being boundedness emanation, changes as long as bounds’ structure alters (in agreement with above mentioned aspectuality characteristics and especially with Comrie 1998). I consider this fact as one of crucial importance in supporting the existence of a third Perfect aspect in English.
4. Characteristics and types of Perfect
This section’s objective is to reveal English Perfect’s aspectual appurtenance by means of surveying category’s basic features and types, basing my arguments on numerous linguists’ research; my views on Perfect types’ characteristics will be also mentioned, but not examined in details, the purpose of current paper being to support aspectual affiliation of studied periphrasis.
It is widely accepted that English Perfect, an aspectual category9, due to following features, can be subdivided into four main categories (though there exist other classifications), according to their meaning, such as resultative perfect, continuative perfect, perfect of experience and perfect of recent past McCauwley (1971), Comrie (1976), Brinton (1988: 10), some scholars treating perfect of experience and of recent past as subcategories of resultative perfect (my approach is differing to some extent; it will be seen further in discussion). Basic aspectual features put forward include completion, "current relevance" (Comrie 1976: 12), "significant persistence of results, a continued truth value, a valid present relevance of the effects of earlier events, [or] the continued reliability of conclusions based on earlier behaviour." (Twadell 1963 in: ibid., italics are mine). Essential achievement in examining nature of perfect is McCoard’s 1978 (Brinton (1988: 13), Pancheva, von Stechow (2004: 2), Dawning & Lock (1992: 373)) "extended now theory", the Perfect meaning "past-including-the present" and so-called "complex anteriority", contrasting John lived in Paris for ten years with John has lived in Paris for ten years (Quirk 1985: 189, italics belong to Quirk). Cohen (1989) estimates the Perfect, along with the Progressive, bear the feature of concomitance or commonness (term translation is mine) in result of binding with present.
View of Perfect aspectual appurtenance is though not unanimously adopted, some authors treating the category as tense (Jespersen, Leech, Mourelatos), others as phase (Trager and Smith, Joos, Palmer), correlation10 (Smirnitsky, Barkhudarov), secondary tense (Halliday, Huddleston)11, phase aspect (Michaelis), tense and aspect combination (Smith), tense, mood and phase aspect combination (Korrel, all authors in: Stoevsky (1999), italics are mine); Declerk (1991: 320) argues that "the basic difference between the two tenses [past tense and present perfect, italic is mine] lies in their temporal schemata".
However easily understandable, such discrepancies in "Perfect" views may be, due to interesting, unique and past-present or present-past nature of Perfect, I do not support above-mentioned second group of statements. Arguments put forward concern two major and tightly related domains - tense nature, on the one hand, and aspect essence, on the other.
Tense is deictic, whereas the Perfect, establishing imminent present connection, possesses the value of correlative or correlation deicticity (Ruzhekova-Rogozherova (2008), it is a meaning the presence of which will be proved later on schematically in all types and subtypes of the category); deicticity and exact positioning of states, events and processes along time axis is to some extent morphologically determined, inflexions contributing to prevailing temporality meaning (in contrast with "will-future" modality hues, for example).
Present-past appurtenance of category has its manifestation in a unique boundedness configuration testifying changes in internal situation’s constituency, which along with further presented features of progressive and integral actuality (terms of mine) as well as already established dependency between degrees of process completion and its resultativity (Gorgatchev 2004), are evidence of English Perfect’s aspectual nature.
Before proceeding with schematically exemplifying bounds’ configuration in various Perfect types, I shall dwell on some relatively recently published ideas on studied category.
Smith (1997: 3) proposes, while discussing term of aspect range, the existence of "Neutral viewpoints" representing "...flexible, including the initial endpoint of a situation and at least one internal stage (where applicable)". Alexiadou, Rathert and von Stechow (2003: X, XVII) state Klein’s (1994) view on the Perfect as an aspect, Pancheva’s classification of category as a "second aspect" and claim that "Paslawska / Stechow interpret the Perfect as a viewpoint aspect as well". De Swart in Schaden (2007: 45-47) treats the perfect as aspectual operator, transforming "one type of Aktionsart into another one"; she postulates that "the perfect picks up whatsoever situation and converts it into a state", "introduces a state immediately adjacent to basic situation", so that in result of perfect application "there are two situations instead of just one" (italics are mine)12. Schaden 2007: 50 concludes "... the Perfect is consequently a kind of aspect (my translation of De Swart and Schaden from French)." Pancheva (2003: 5) views the Perfect as "a higher aspect", Neutral as possessing features "common to the perfective and others to the imperfective" and claims (2003: 9) that "The semantic role of the perfect is to introduce an interval, the Perfect Time Span (PTS)".
Taking into account quoted authors’ views, convincingly revealing English Perfect’s meaning as specific bounds’ combination and alterations, my personal observations and really significant Kempchinsky and Slabakova’s (2005: 5) statement "Perfective vs. imperfective sentential aspect corresponds to the notions of "boundedness" and "unboundedness", I refer to English Perfect as a unique by its meaning and scope third, cumulative, encompassing perfective as well as imperfective features aspect, displaying past-present connection of a specific kind, due to ever-fleeing by nature present. This statement will be supported by means of exemplifying schemes illustrating basic types of Perfect in my classification.
As outlined just below, my research on a large fiction as well as scientific texts corpus has shown that English Perfect’s meanings stem from two essential ones - current relevance or Correlative deicticity and Resultativity (the latter representing a former variation, fact which will be soon exemplified); these two fundamental values themselves, give rise to numerous submeanings and moreover, their combination leads to yet another meanings’ group formation.
Above-mentioned types13 will be presented in the following chart, each Perfect sense being accompanied by illustrative example/s either extracted from my corpus14 or my own ones. Exemplifying instances will be subsequently schematically illustrated, thus supporting thesis current article puts forward - Perfect’s undoubted aspectual affiliation.
Now that Perfect types have been exemplified I shall proceed with each submeaning’s brief analysis accompanied by bounds’ scheme.
Resultativity due to "appropriation" of an activity’s current result (conveyed through past participle expressing, owing to its passive essence, perfectiveness and result) by means of present tense auxiliary have, is inherent to Perfect nature meaning. Notwithstanding Resultativity’s crucial status, as it was mentioned above, this value can be treated as partially stemming from current relevance or Correlative deicticity, owing to Perfect Time Span (PTS, see above) existence in Resultativity as it is the case in all Perfect instances. Let us examine example (1)15 bounds’ structure to support this view.
Not knowing exact temporal location of above utterance kidnapping, left event bounds (there is not just one precise bound) are blurred, belonging theoretically to anywhere in the past (although vague, left bounding is present as an activity has really happened); right bounding (there is not just one precise bound due to ever fleeing Now) shows presence of always fleeing forwards in time "current"16 result; PTS here is equivalent to 1l - 1r; 1l - 2r; 1l - 3r; 1l - nr; 2l - 1r; 2l - 2r; 2l - 3r; 2l - 3n, etc. relation, due to present nature. Resultativity apparently turns out to be specifically subordinated to Correlative deicticity. Although this statement may be valid to some extent, I treat Resultativity as almost equally important to correlative deicticity, both meanings being intrinsically related and contributing to each other as well as to their common derivatives (see above).
Same bounds’ structure can be applied to Possessive resultativity (figure 6), "current" result and PTS involving much stronger possessive hue.
This meaning, typical to British English, called by various linguists recent indefinite past, hot news perfect, perfect of recent past (Leech 1971; McCawley 1971; Comrie 1976 in: Brinton 1988: 11, italics are mine), is another Resultativity Perfect derivative, in my view. Used predominantly (in explicit nearness) with adverbials such as just, recently, lately, of late, in recent months, now, Perfect of Present nearness displays stronger resultativity than previously discussed basic sense, left event bounds (rather hazy once again due to lack of precise temporal location) being closer to right ones as shown below in example (4) bounds’ scheme.
I consider Anteriority and derived Transposition dependent on already presented Resultativity as an event can be anterior to another one (or some time period) only referring to it. This meaning, consequently, again focuses attention on Resultativity, this time combined with habitual present repetitiveness (utterance (5). Figure 8 displays the same bounds’ configuration (temporally imprecise, but real left bounds and fleeing right ones) as in typical Resultativity example, adding characteristic to a relatively wide present time period repetitiveness at unspecified intervals:
I consider Transposition use (example (6) semantically equivalent to anteriority, when + Perfect coinciding by meaning with straight after + Perfect. Above quoted utterance displays the same bounds’ scheme as figure 8, taking into account that when does not express in this case deicticity, but immediate anteriority rather, this way getting near to Present nearness meaning.
Correlative deicticity or current relevance meaning, as already outlined, is the most fundamental and inherent meaning of Perfect, revealing its sailing feature - connection to ever fleeing present. The point here being not to dwell in details on this meaning’s variations, but characterize it as a whole, I shall proceed with exemplifying its bounds’ configuration applicable with markers, such as for (see example (8), since, for a long time, so far, up to/till now, over the past/last years, today, this week, just pragmatic situation (see example (9), etc. Let us focus on example (7) bounding scheme below.
As it can be seen, this meaning’s left bounding is precisely situated in time (the same applies to some extent to so far and similar markers’ use, referring to a context dependent point in time); this fact does not make the form tense, though, the activity being unfinished up till ever fleeing now and this way, not displaying real, but Correlative deicticity. Does not this sense’s PTS (1l - 1r; 1l - 2r; 1l - 3r...) most eloquently support unique Perfect aspectual affiliation, comprising Perfective (at least one strictly temporally positioned bound) and Imperfective (open bounding) aspect characteristics?
Current meaning’s derivational status with respect to already discussed Correlative deicticity, can be easily established and exemplified through utterance (10) bounds’ configuration below, not yet always referring to ever fleeing now, process developing and not having reached its completion so far. However similar to basic value, current meaning differs to some extent from it - left boundary here being not explicit, but rather temporally vague and, consequently, most often pragmatically determined.
Perfect Omnitemporality and its variation (omnitemporality in an individual’s life), quite common meaning in British English17, is really close by its bounds’ configuration to fundamental Correlative deicticity, never and always encompassing theoretically past, present and future. Thus, current value expresses in its subtypes either a process with most likely left bound - the beginning of times, real Omnitemporality (figure 11), or a probable (although unspecified, but pragmatically supposed) process starting point concerning somebody’s individual life (figures 12 and 13), Personalized omnitemporality. Both senses subdivide into integral and discrete values, depending on sentence aktionsart, omnitemporal states, possessing integral (figure 12), and omitemporally repeated events and processes, displaying discrete characteristics (figure 11, processes being repeated at regular intervals, and figure 13, processes being repeated at irregular intervals).
Current meaning is another Correlative deicticity derivative, either representing discrete processes or states which have been valid or happening up to now with no significant changes, Integral Actuality (figures 14a, b), or processes and states with similar to first type bounds’ scheme, though with varying intensity, which is the case with so called Progressive actuality (figure 15). Figures 14a, b left bound can, according to overall context, either coincide with typical Omnitemporality one (figure 14a) or be rather hazy, though really existing (figure 14b). Figure 15 Correlative deicticity PTS which can coincide either with 14a or 14b’s one, depending on context, is not only characterized by up to now on-going process, but also by its gradual progression (upwards or downwards) in process quantity development. Figure 15 interval, being too short, over the past years, leads to right ever fleeing now bounds nearing to left vague, but really existing ones.
Perfect of Acquired experience (known in literature as experiential, indefinite events’ or existential perfect, (Comrie (1998: 58) has revealed in my studies its complex appurtenance, to Resultativity and Correlative deicticity, at the same time, thus resulting, along with some other values, from fundamental Perfect types combination. According to Comrie (ibid.) certain situation has been accomplished at least once up to now; Declés & Guentchéva (2003: 52) treat plurality of one and the same event as distinguishing resultativity from experience marker18. In my view, proved by means of transformation analysis (my own exemplifying utterances are presented below)19, Acquired experience Perfect fully displays its essence expressing a process, state or event with both following markers, being present: plurality and lack of the, determination (lack of determination and singular marker a also shows examined meaning, though somehow weakened).
Current type of Perfect, most often conveying the meaning of more than one processes of similar type which have been accomplished up to ever fleeing now, can find its expression formulaically: Already - the + plural,meaning: Resultativity deprived of determination and provided with plurality. Acquired experience has its bounds scheme as below (this utterance context unlike preceding one, in the chart above, allows a more precise left bound).
Stunning is this type of Perfect likeness with above examined value of Acquired experience. Superlatives use, similarly to adjacent expressions, such as the only, the unique, the first (third, seventh ...) time, once again refers to Now and, consequently, due to plurality of process occurrences or explicit experience contained even in the unique, the first, in addition, highlights bounds’ structure similar to above presented one. Superlatives and analogous expressions show specific plurality, not only experiential, but also plurality combined with uniqueness and exceptionality. This statement equally applies to recurrence of "the first" exceptional event (the nth time), being accompanied with partial loss of uniqueness, though not complete, due to use of the (the first, though, depending on perspective, could also express plurality, all preceding happenings being nonexistent). Current Perfect meaning is easily combined with Omnitemporality (ever, never, in my life in figure17 below) and Correlative deicticity markers, such as so far, over the last years, etc. in result of Superlative perfectness mixed essence (see above chart). This value bounds’ configuration is revealed through utterances schemes as it follows:
Current type of Perfect represents a submeaning of already considered Acquired experience type, this time not referring to individual, but rather to generalized happenings, most people (expressed by you) have been through. Following utterance bounds’ scheme (figure 20) reveals above mentioned similarity between both meanings, X, Y and Z pointing at context supposed moments (with unspecified number and time location) you were fond of someone.
Current paper’s main objective has been yet another attempt to support the view of Perfect’s aspectual affiliation; I have tried to exemplify my statement that it represents a third, cumulative aspect, encompassing Perfective as well as Imperfective characteristics. This position has been founded on numerous researchers’ above quoted ideas and findings and maintained through bounds’ schemes (bounds being emanation of aspect) of various types of Perfect belonging to my Perfect aspect classification. Bounding configuration (see figures 5-20) has proved to display in various cases some certainty of left closed bound positioning (most examples belonging to Correlative deicticity and Acquired experience meanings and submeanings), but no exact right bound location, this one pertaining to ever fleeing Now; Resultativity and adjacent values have revealed lack of strictly positioned left as well as right bound. To sum up, all utterances bounds’ configuration has shown differently aspectuality features, such as intervals structure, change of situation’s internal constituency by means of adjacent resultative state and Correlative deicticity constantly bridging the gap between past and present, uniting both and forming a type of integral or progressive continuum (see integral and progressive actuality). All examined cases intervals’ specificity has revealed characteristics of both Perfectivity (strictly (or even vaguely20) positioned left bound) and Imperfectivity (lack of process ending due to reference to ever fleeing now), this way supporting the idea of English Perfect representing a unique, in comparison with Perfect in other languages (in French and German the periphrasis has a different status), Third aspect to be treated equally with Perfective and Imperfective.
1. English Perfect represents a brilliant example of this "third" aspect due to its imminent current relevance; some of its original meanings are applicable to French Perfect, commonly treated as a tense, though without denying its dual and highly aspectual nature. [back]
2. There is no common agreement in literature on what exactly action mode (aktionsart, situation types, situation structure types) stands for ("inherent meaning" Comrie (1998: 7); "indication of the intrinsic temporal qualities of a situation" Brinton (1988: 2); see Brinton (1988: 23-36) as to verb typologies in the perspective of Dowty, Kenny, Garey (stative /non-stative; punctual / durative; telic / atelic verbs), Vendler (1967) (states, activities, accomplishments and achievements), "classes of events and states" Smith (1997); "classes of verb sets on the basis of similarities in the structure and general characteristics of the lexical meaning" Stambolieva (2008). Though positions may not be so diverging, some authors emphasize on verb lexical meaning only, whereas others, analyze it jointly with syntactic context. [back]
3. Owing to morphologically determined Perfective and Imperfective aspect and aktionsart, Bulgarian verb, contrary to non-Slavonic languages, indicates almost entirely independently of syntax a process "development or ...totality; ... its initial, middle or final phase..."; whether the process is single or repetitive, etc. (Stambolieva (2008: 53). [back]
4. I classify aspect formation factors (my term) into two groups (in compliance with Benvéniste’s theory of language levels, Benvéniste (1966: 119-131) - lexical (verb’s inherent meaning and adverbials, Danchev (2001: 173), Brinton (1988: 23-27) and grammatical (prepositions, in / transitiveness, plurality, articles, quantification, etc.). [back]
5. Smith (1997: 1) estimates that: "the range of the term [aspect] has broadened not only "including Perfective and Imperfective, but "situation types" too. [back]
6. Underlining here and below in quotations is mine. [back]
7. Lack of general views on aspect and related to it action modes stems from various ways of aspectuality building in Slavonic and non-Slavonic languages, by means of morphological markers or syntax; in Slavonic Perfective / Imperfective and adjacent action modes assume synthetic character, whereas in non-Slavonic, they are analytical (in English there are very few exceptions, such as suffix - en in verbs like brighten, coarsen, toughen, widen, etc., usually perfective, see Danchev (2001: 173). Attempting to implement a common aspectuality description criterion, by aspect I mean Perfective / Imperfective and characterized later on in current paper third Perfect aspect. [back]
8. Italics are mine; they follow from quoted author’s presentation, though. My bounds’ structures representations further in the paper will be based on this type of bounds’ representations. [back]
9. Lyons (1968: 315), also quoted in Valeika & Buitkiené (2003: 97) states that in English there are two main aspects, the "perfect" and the "progressive". [back]
10. Phase and correlation views, referring in my opinion to boundedness and, respectively, to aspectuality again, will not be treated in current article. [back]
11. See also Huddleston (1996). [back]
12. Above mentioned "adjacent" situation results in a "meaning of indirect evidentiality" (Izvorski 1997: 13). [back]
13. Terms of Possessive resultativity, Present nearness, Superlative perfectness, Correlative deicticity, "not yet" perfect, Integral and Progressive actuality are mine; all types of underlining, aimed at focusing attention at Perfect use and adjacent lexical and grammatical factors, are mine. [back]
14. Current paper excerpted sources are cited following conclusion. [back]
15. There is a discrepancy between examples and figures’ numbers, so example (number) or utterance (number) refers to Perfect meanings table above. [back]
16. Adjective "current" is in quotations not because I doubt its exact implementation in Perfect explanation, but as I reckon, it is just an approximation, though useful, in this context. [back]
17. In American English omnitemporality adverbs occur more often with the preterit, aspectual meaning being totally different from their perfect use, expressing perfectivity and, consequently, lack of current relevance due to closed left and right bounds; this combination in British English though, has stylistic connotations. [back]
18. Although this statement concerns French Perfect, I consider it fully applies to English category as well. [back]
19. All types of underlining aim at focusing attention at current meaning and contributing to it lexical and grammatical factors. [back]
20. Hazy left bounding (see above) should also be treated as Perfectivity marker due to its real existence. [back]
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© Boryana Ruzhekova-Rogozherova