A Contrastive Analysis of the English and the German Present Perfect Tense and their Main Declarative Clauses


Term Paper, 2017
14 Pages, Grade: 1,3

Excerpt

Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. Differences in the Present Perfect tense

3. Differences in Declarative Main Clauses

4. Theoretical background
4.1. The Universal Grammar approach
4.2. The Competition Model

5. Conclusion and Future Outlook

6. References

List of Abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser leseprobe nicht enthalten

List of Figures

Figure 1. Syntax tree in English: Last Monday John completed his novel. ..4

Figure 2. Syntax tree in German: Letzten Montag vollendete John seinen Roman. ...5

Figure 3. Possible parameter with regards to headedness in German and English. …...…7

Figure 4. Language by Word Order Interaction for English, German and Italian 9

1. Introduction

This paper is going to provide an insight into contrasts between the English and German language. Due to a shared origin from the Indo-European languages (König & Gast, Word Order and sentence types, 2012, p.188), the two languages are perceived to be similar enough to have sufficient things in common in order to establish comparability but are at the same time also distinctive enough to show significant contrasts. The essential theme of this paper argues that English and German may exhibit formal parallels on the surface, however, accommodate very different underlying usages and internal structures. Due to a limited length of this paper the discussion of contrasts is restricted to the resultative and narrative usage of the Present Perfect tense as well as to declarative main clauses in the syntax. Both areas exemplify the persistent theme of this paper in an excellent way.

Furthermore, these two areas can be taken as potential areas of difficulties and errors for speakers of German who seek to learn English (see (1a)). In (1a) the strong German desire for the verb being in the second position of a main clause is visible. In contrast, example (1b) clearly indicates that in English the subject always precedes the verb which is not always the case in German. Hence, this is a potential area of errors for German L1-speakers in English.

(1) a. For me was this adventure one of the best.

b. For me this adventure was one of the best.

(ESL Treebank, 2017)

Afterwards two dominant theories in language acquisition, the Universal Grammar approach as well as the Competition Model, will be discussed and applied to predominantly First Language Acquisition (L1A).

2. Differences in the Present Perfect tense

Scrutinizing the English and German tense systems affirms clearly the consistent theme in this paper: English and German may exhibit strong parallels in their formal representations at first glance, but at second glance assign very distinctive usages and underlying meanings to these seemingly parallel structures.

When contrasting the English Present Perfect to its German equivalent, the Perfekt, their almost analogue appearance and construction initially disguise their distinctive usages. Example (2) shows that both languages are composed of an auxiliary (have in English and haben or sein in German) as well as a past participle of the main verb.

(2) a) I have just eaten an apple.
b) Ich habe gerade einen Apfel gegessen.

However, the most striking difference between the German and the English Present Perfect tense addresses their distinctive “reference points which locate a situation in time relative to the moment of utterance” (König & Gast, Tense and Aspect, 2012, p.81). While the English Present Perfect invariably describes a time interval and insists on a reference to the present, the German Perfekt can also occur without an explicit connection to the present (König & Gast, Tense and Aspect, 2012, p.87).

In both languages, the Present Perfect tense serves multiple purposes which partially overlap but primarily differ. In its resultative usage, in which mainly change-of-state verbs occur, the Present Perfect is the only option in both languages (König & Gast, Tense and Aspect, 2012, p.91). Example (3c) in the past tense would sound unnatural to German native speakers.

(3) a. Mary has washed her car.
b. Mary hat ihr Auto gewaschen.
c. ?Mary wusch ihr Auto.

While the Present Perfect tenses in English and in German share their resultative usages, the English Present Perfect lacks a narrative usage. The emerging narrative usage of the Perfekt in German occurs in situations with “references to definite moments in the past which are separated from the moment of utterance” (König & Gast, Tense and Aspect, 2012, p.88). It stands in stark contrast to the usage of its English counterpart since English requires exclusively the Simple Past tense in such cases. Example (4) illustrates that in German both the Perfekt as well as the Präteritum are applicable in those situations (König & Gast, Tense and Aspect, 2012, p.88).

(4) a. Suddenly the lights went out and it went pitch-black.
a. Plötzlich ging das Licht aus und es wurde stockdunkel.
b. Plötzlich ist das Licht ausgegangen und es ist stockdunkel geworden.

Interesting to mention is also how an English utterance in Present Perfect can have differently implied meanings in its German translation. The universal usage of the Present Perfect primarily “assert(s) the continuation of a state, a habit or an activity up to the moment of speech” (König & Gast, Tense and Aspect, 2012, p.90). While English allows only the Present Perfect in this context, German allows the Perfekt as well as the Präsens, which both offer slightly different meanings in their translations.

(5) a. I haven ’ t danced for ten years.
b. Ich habe seit zehn Jahren nicht mehr getanzt. Bitte entschuldigen Sie, wenn ich Ihnen auf die Füße trete.
c. Ich tanze seit zehn Jahren nicht mehr.

In example (5b) the usage of the German Perfekt implies that the described state does not go beyond the moment of utterance, while it does in (5c) (König & Gast, Tense and Aspect, 2012, p.90).

The outlined contrasts highlight that despite strong formal parallels, the English and German usage of the Present Perfect differs in numerous significant ways.

3. Differences in Declarative Main Clauses

Similar to the usage of the Present Perfect, the German and English word orders seem to exhibit strong parallel structures at first glance. However, at second glance there are striking underlying differences when it comes to their internal structures. A good way to exemplify is contrasting the structures of declarative main clauses.

The syntax in English declarative sentences, no matter if main or subordinate clauses, is shaped by a highly fixed word order following S-V-O. In strict SVO languages, the subject always precedes the verb. Even if objects, adverbial phrases or prepositional phrases take over the sentence-initial position, the subject still precedes the verb. In simple main clauses, the German and English order of constituents may seem identical (compare (6a & 6b)). However, as soon as main clauses in German become more complex, their sentence structures start to differ significantly (compare (7a & 7b)).

(6) a. JohnS completed V a novelO.
b. JohnS vollendete V einen RomanO.

(7) a. Last Monday JohnS completed V his novelO.
b. Letzten Montag vollendete V JohnS seinen RomanO.

With English following strict SVO, the subject John still precedes the verb which is followed by the object. An investigation of its German counterpart highlights the distinctive underlying syntactical structures. In German main clauses, the finite verb always takes over the second position in a sentence, no matter if an adverbial phrase or an object is in the sentence-initial position or if the subject precedes or follows the finite verb. Hence, German can be classified rather as a V2-language in main clauses (König & Gast, Word Order and sentence types, 2012, p.194). In other words, it is the finite and non-finite verb that “are (the) basic anchoring points of constituent order in German” (König & Gast, Word Order and sentence types, 2012, p.196).

Abbildung in dieser leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1. Syntax tree in English: Last Monday John completed his novel.

These differences draw back on distinctive internal syntactical structures in German and English, as illustrated in Figure 1 and Figure 2. The contrasts primarily arise due to a different headedness and different feature strengths.

Abbildung in dieser leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 2. Syntax tree in German: Letzten Montag vollendete John seinen Roman.

Headedness is responsible for the syntactical operation MERGE. MERGE can either be to the right (head-initial) or to the left (head-final) and describes the position of the complement relative to the head (Mitchell, Myles, & Marsden, 2013, p.74). In the case of English (compare Figure 1) the XP always merges to the right, hence English follows a head-initial setup. For instance, the verb completed merges with the DP his novel to the right. In German syntax, the opposed structure appears: the XP always merges to the left creating a head-final setup (see Figure 2). For instance, the main verb vollendete merges with the DP seinen Roman to the left. (Radford, 2009, pp. 321-322)

[...]

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Details

Title
A Contrastive Analysis of the English and the German Present Perfect Tense and their Main Declarative Clauses
College
University of Mannheim
Grade
1,3
Author
Year
2017
Pages
14
Catalog Number
V428611
ISBN (eBook)
9783668730748
ISBN (Book)
9783668730755
File size
627 KB
Language
English
Tags
contrastive, analysis, english, german, present, perfect, main, declarative, clauses
Quote paper
Jenny Streb (Author), 2017, A Contrastive Analysis of the English and the German Present Perfect Tense and their Main Declarative Clauses, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/428611

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