Friday, October 06, 2006


Preterite perfect

It is well known that different professions can have vocabulary all their own but can they have their own grammar too?

I have long been struck by the strange use of the present perfect (“has done”) instead of the preterite (“did”) by football and racing folk in Britain, particularly in the context of post-match/post-race comments and reaction.

Example 1
"Their goal is not legitimate. He's neither headed it nor side-footed the ball in. We've had a bit of a rough decision but we didn't score…. He's knocked it in with his hand but what can we do about it?”
Example 2
Yet while Monday's misadventure will have done little to enhance his reputation, Collins insists it would be wrong to cast the defender as a thug.
"I know Dan quite well and he's not that sort of player," he said. "He's not going to go into a tackle trying to do someone. He's gone for the ball and the lad's got there a yard sharper than him. Unfortunately, he's caught him.”
Example 3
Smart was not at the track but he did see the race on television and he was fuming at the decision of the stewards.

He said: ''I have never stopped a horse in all my training career...Paul Eddery has rode a misjudged race, that's what he's done. That horse was not stopped. To fine me that amount of money is a ridiculous thing, all because of a misjudged race. I am so angry I can hardly speak.

''I told him to drop him in a little bit but he has dropped him in too far.
Example 4
Quinn added: ''He's quickened up really nicely and was always travelling supremely well. I knew we had it stitched up towards the end.''

He is a nice young horse and I couldn't see him getting beat today," said the trainer. "He got there a bit sooner than we'd planned, but Mick (Fitzgerald) felt he'd better commit when he did and he's quickened away well, despite running a bit green."
I have now discovered that there is a third group – the New Zealand police – using the present perfect in this way. The phenomenon, which has been dubbed the preterite perfect, is researched and documented in a most informative thesis paper by Rebecca M. Cox.
They’ve concealed themselves in the roof here um a woman was using one of the cubicles in the toilet and Taylor’s fallen through on top of her. They’ve run away and then he was located um a short distance away in a nearby carpark.”
In fact it seems that in New Zealand and Australia the construction has also become common in mainstream English (or should that be Anglo-American? – see previous post), which runs counter to the trend in American and British English of the present perfect giving way to the preterite.
In the northern hemisphere, the perfect is said to be losing ground to the preterite, but in New Zealand and Australian English the [present perfect] is apparently undergoing semantic extension to include past time with no present connection, a niche traditionally occupied by the preterite.
The paper also considers the literature on how perfect tenses tend to evolve across all languages:
Elsness has compiled the generally recognized stages in the development of the present perfect from the work of a number of linguists (see Elsness 1997: 346 for a full list). Elsness’s first stage is typified by a reference to a present state or result of action. By the second stage, ‘the emphasis has shifted to the past action which brought about the state or result’ (ibid: 347), although any specific past-time reference is still disallowed. Modern English clearly belongs in this stage. At the third stage, the present perfect has lost any present relevance, and has become simply a past tense. At this stage there are no restrictions on the use of past-time specification (ibid). French is included in this stage, and German appears to be at an intermediate stage between two and three (ibid).
And concludes that:
The change observed in New Zealand and Australian English appears to follow the universal trend of perfect evolution outlined in Bybee et al. (1994), where present perfect forms evolve to display preterite-like uses. New Zealand English speakers may thus be at the forefront of a wider PP change.
So first it's the rolling maul, now this.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?