(University of Hamburg)
The Simple Past and Present Perfect in Contemporary Spoken American English
In English, two different constructions can be used to refer to an event that has occurred in the past: the simple past, also known as the preterite, and the present perfect. There is tension between the two constructions, due to an overlap in the contexts in which they are used. Studies have investigated many aspects of the SP/PP alternation, including its historical development, its distribution among different varieties of English, and possible explanations of what motivates the use of one or the other construction.
Up until now, research on the use of the English present perfect versus that of the simple past has concentrated on either the differences between the two major inner circle varieties, British and American English, or on the variation among many different world Englishes. This study distinguishes itself from previous work in that it both aims to put American English under the microscope and focus on the features of this variety alone, as well as zooming in on spoken language of the late 20th and early 21st century, thus presenting the most up-to-date possible picture of the PP and SP in American English. Using the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA), I will conduct a study on the use of these two verbal constructions in transcripts of unscripted conversation in order to examine the frequency of each. Moreover, an attempt will be made to understand the role of certain temporal adverbials (such as since, always, and ever) in the choice of one construction over another.