3. The semantics of the perfect progressive in English

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As chapters in these volumes clearly demonstrate, the grammaticalization of temporality varies enormously across languages. No other language has a construction exactly like the English perfect progressive – which, were it a combination of aspects as some claim, would be self-contradictory. The principal purpose of this chapter is to demonstrate how a proper semantics for the English perfect progressive locates in time the event to which it applies. I examine the origins and meanings of the progressive and the perfect in English. I affirm that the progressive is an aspect and the perfect a tense, even though the perfect does have some aspectual traits. The default meaning of the progressive is that the activity (event) denoted by the predicate in the scope of the progressive operator prog is incomplete at the temporal deictic centre indicated by the tense used in the clause. The perfect is a retrospective tense, a past tense P relative to whatever time point is indicated by the deictic centre for the clause, be it P, N, or F. The perfect progressive locates an incomplete event as retrospective from the deictic centre for the clause. Given these assumptions there is no contradiction in the concatenation perfect progressive, have + been + Ving, such as would seem to arise if the perfect is analysed as an aspect.


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