Periphrastic perfect tense in English : a historical perspective
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The present thesis deals with the development of the periphrastic perfect throughout the history of the English language. Since we are dealing with only the periphrastic perfect in this thesis, the term “perfect” will be employed to refer to the periphrastic perfect for convenience, unless otherwise specified. The major topics discussed in the thesis include the grammaticalization of the English perfect, the semantics of the “have” and “be” perfects in Old English, and the standardization of the English perfect auxiliary. As groundwork for the rest of the thesis, Chapter 2 discusses whether the Modern English perfect should be treated as tense or aspect, and what the possible meanings of the Modern English perfect are. It will be argued that the Modern English perfect carries tense meanings. This thesis also introduces and adopts the view that that the Modern English perfect has the existential, universal, and resultative readings as its distinct meanings. Regarding the grammaticalization of the English perfect, Chapter 3 refutes the accepted view that the “true” perfect did not exist in Old English, but evolved from the “adjectival” construction during the Old English period. It also claims that the English perfect had already been well-established by the beginning of the Old English period. Most English historical grammarians have agreed with the view that, in Old English, the “have” perfect denoted only the resultative perfect meaning at best, while the “be” perfect was a resultative “state” construction, denoting a state that was brought about by some action in the past. Chapters 4 and 5 challenge this generally accepted view, arguing that the Old English “have” perfect had all three possible meanings of the Modern English perfect and that the Old English “be” perfect carried the resultative “perfect” meaning, denoting both a preceding action and the resulting state. Finally, while most English historical grammarians concur that the standardization of the English perfect auxiliary in favor of have was not completed until the 19th century, Chapter 6 claims that have had already become the regular English perfect auxiliary by the 14th century at the latest.