The perfect in context: A corpus study
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Several recent studies of the English present perfect have argued that its interpretation requires addressees to draw pragmatic inferences (Portner 2003; Borillo et al. 2004; Nishiyama and Koenig 2004). Portner (2003) and Borillo et al. (2004) argue that the perfect presupposes or elaborates a topic, whose identity must be inferred; Nishiyama and Koenig (2004) suggest that the perfect introduces into the discourse free variables whose values must also be inferred and constitute implicitures in the sense of Bach (1994). However neither proposal specifies the rules speakers may or must use to draw the relevant pragmatic inferences or whether such inferences are plausibly drawn by addressees. This paper purports to fill this gap through the study of over 600 English perfect examples from a diverse range of genres (newspapers, discussions, conversations, and narrative texts). The results of our study show (i) that the required inferences belong to one of only a few inference patterns and are easy enough to be plausibly drawn; (ii) that Borillo et al.’s (2004) and Portner’s (2003) topic-driven analysis of the perfect cannot account for all uses of the English present perfect.