English Linguistics Variation in the Verb Phrase


Hausarbeit, 2013
17 Seiten, Note: 1,7

Leseprobe

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Development of the Present Perfect vs. the Simple Past

3. Present Perfect vs. Simple Past – A Questionnaire

4. Conclusion

5. References

List of Figures

Figure 1: American English Speaker

Figure 2: British English Speaker

Figure 3: American English Speaker

Figure 4: British English Speaker

Figure 5: American English Speaker

Figure 6: British English Speaker

Figure 7. American English Speaker – Initial Situation

Figure 8: British English Speaker – Initial Situation

Figure 9: American English Speaker – Present Perfect with Simple Past Time Adverbial

Figure 10: American English Speaker – Simple Past with Past Time Adverbial

Figure 11: British English Speaker – Present Perfect with Past Time Adverbial

Figure 12: British English Speaker – Simple Past with Simple Past Time Adverbial

1. Introduction

In Present-Day English, references to the past can be expressed either by the Present Perfect or the Simple Past and for each tense there are specific temporal adverbials. Some of them as yesterday, ago and last grammatically call for the Simple Past, while other temporal adverbials such as since and yet require the use of the Present Perfect. Recent corpus-based studies of Present-Day English have shown that the Present Perfect is more often used in British English than in American English.

In the following term paper I will briefly outline the development of the Simple Past and the Present Perfect throughout the years and then I will shortly summarize the modern use of these two tenses of both speakers of British and American English. There are several studies on the historical and modern use of the two tenses. In his research paper “The Present Perfect and the Preterite” Johann Elsness observes a rapid decline of the use of the Present Perfect which appears to have occurred in American English first and then triggered the same development in British English. Marianne Hundt and Nicholas Smith study the recent changes in their research paper “The Present Perfect in British and American English: Has there been any change, recently?”

These studies, however, mostly focus on written forms of English as they can be found in books or newspapers (or internet chat rooms). Both Elsness and Hundt and Smith analyse the overall use of the Present Perfect and the Simple Past, without taking into account the age of the speaker – which is a crucial factor of a person’s way of speaking. In this paper, I would like to expand their topic by including a questionnaire addressing both users of American and British English in order to prove that it is the British that prefer to use the Present Perfect over the Simple Past – although there seems to be a reasonable balance concerning the use of these two tenses regarding American and British English speakers.

The questionnaire focuses on people of different ages who were asked to decide which of these two tenses they would prefer in an everyday situation by differentiating between two given examples of which each contains either the Present Perfect or the Simple Past. Taking into account the results I will show which age group prefers which tense in different situations of everyday life. Due to the limited space, I have to leave out other factors like gender, regional variation, social and ethnic background or education, which, in a comprehensive analysis, should also be investigated because they are certainly not less important and should therefore not be disregarded.

2. Development of the Present Perfect vs. the Simple Past

There has been a decreasing use of the Present Perfect in Present-Day English since the beginning of the 19th century. One might think that because of this decreasing use of the Present Perfect in Present-Day English the use of the Simple Past is increasing on the other hand, but indeed, the use of the Simple Past has also decreased over time. Hundt and Smith argue that stable regional variation rather than a diachronic change might be the reason for this phenomenon (cf. Hundt and Smith 2009:51). There is no real difference between American and British English as far as the development of the Present Perfect and the Simple Past is concerned; a quite similar development is observable. There are only slight differences but they are not really meaningful.

According to the aspect of co-occurrence with temporal adverbials, Hundt and Smith state that the Present Perfect forms are used without any temporal specification. Hundt and Smith, who worked with the tagged version of the Brown family corpora, observe variation in the use of the Present Perfect and the Simple Past as far as the adverbs of current relevance are concerned. The comparison of the Present Perfect and the Simple Past in their family of corpora also shows that the proportion of these two constructions is stable over time and that there is a “decreasing variability across genres in the use of the present perfect” (Hundt and Smith 2009:57). The Present Perfect is more frequently used with adverbs that refer to a specific point of time in the past (cf. 2009:55). As Leech puts it “[t]he Present Perfect and Simple Past are not mutually exclusive choices: there are many situations where either of these tenses would be suitable” (2004:35).

Nevertheless, people learning English as a foreign language are taught not to use the Present Perfect with time adverbials requiring the Simple Past because this is normally considered to be ungrammatical and so one might expect native speakers – both American and British English speakers – even more so to use the grammatically right construction. Yet, it is primarily English native speakers who use this construction more and more combining the Present Perfect and a Simple Past time adverbial. The combination of the Present Perfect and adverbs that normally require the Simple Past has become more and more common in spoken English – both in American and British English – which also made me start to think about a different, practical approach on this topic. In the following chapter I will attempt to analyze varieties of spoken English by including a questionnaire.

3. Present Perfect vs. Simple Past – A Questionnaire

In order to find out how native speakers, both British English and American English speakers, would act and react in an everyday situation, I will make a practical approach based on a questionnaire which contains four different questions concerning the use of the Present Perfect and the Simple Past. I have asked the respondents to give their age as well as region. There might be regional differences concerning the tendency to use one specific tense. However, due to reasons of space in this paper, I have excluded the analysis of those regional differences, focusing on age instead.

This is what the questionnaire looks like:

What would you say?

A Questionnaire for a Research Project in English Linguistics Please read the instructions before answering the following questions.

First, identify if your are an American English or a British English speaker, as well as your age and the region you come from. It is an anonymous questionnaire, so please do not write down your name.

For example: Person X is an American English Speaker coming from Atlanta and is 25 years old.

American English speaker or British English Speaker:

Age:

Region:

Bear in mind that there is no right or wrong answer, so do not think about the answers too long in advance: it is about how you would react spontaneously in a specific situation.

1) What would you say?

a) I am hungry. I have not eaten anything.

b) I am hungry. I did not eat anything.

2) How would you react in the following situation?

Sabrina: “Hi, did you play tennis yesterday?”

a) No, I played football.

b) No, I have played football.

3) You meet one of your best friends in town after a night out. You tell him or her the following: How would you express yourself?

a) I have not seen the girl yesterday.

b) I did not see the girl yesterday.

4) You are going to write an important exam at the end of the semester but you are not well-prepared. What would you say?

a) I did not learn so far.

b) I have not learned so far.

Thank you very much for participating and supporting me.

While the first two questions simply require the use of either the Present Perfect or the Simple Past, relying only on the context as a means of orientation, the other two questions additionally contain time adverbials, pushing the respondents towards a specific tense. This is to investigate whether or not Hundt and Smith were accurate about their claim that both Present Perfect and Simple Past were used ungrammatically with the wrong time adverbials. Additionally, this prevents the responses from becoming too abstract. I'm addressing both American English and British English speakers of different ages. By doing so I would like to show that age plays an important role in terms of choosing the Present Perfect or the Simple Past in several situations.

The first question of the questionnaire does not contain a direct adverbial, only a reference to the present “I am hungry”. Both American English and British English speakers mostly prefer the Present Perfect over the Simple Past.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1: American English Speaker

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 2: British English Speaker

The Present Perfect is used to express a state that is still valid, which is the case in the present example. The second question is likewise unambiguous, clearly referring to a past event.

[...]

Ende der Leseprobe aus 17 Seiten

Details

Titel
English Linguistics Variation in the Verb Phrase
Hochschule
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz  (Fachbereich 05 Department of English and Linguistics)
Veranstaltung
Variation in the Verb Phrase
Note
1,7
Autor
Jahr
2013
Seiten
17
Katalognummer
V429733
ISBN (eBook)
9783668756106
ISBN (Buch)
9783668756113
Dateigröße
1329 KB
Sprache
Deutsch
Schlagworte
Simple Past, Present Perfect
Arbeit zitieren
Christopher Domke (Autor), 2013, English Linguistics Variation in the Verb Phrase, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/429733

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