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The present perfect, context dependence, and event semantics

Conference contribution
Authors Stellan Petersson
Published in Filosofidagarna/The Swedish Congress of Philosophy, Umeå, Sweden, June 14–16, 2019
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Swedish
Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science
Language en
Keywords event semantics, context dependence, model-theoretic semantics, the present perfect
Subject categories Theoretical philosophy


Consider the following sentence: (1) IFK Norrköping has won Allsvenskan. An utterance of (1) can have at least two readings. First, the intuitive truth conditions can be that IFK Norrköping won Allsvenskan at some point in the past. On this reading, the utterance is true if uttered in 2018, since the team won Allsvenskan in 2015. Secondly, (1) can have the reading that IFK Norrköping is the winner of the year when the utterance is made. If it is supposed that the utterance is made after the last match in 2018, (1) is false, on this second reading. In this talk, I present a novel approach to the present perfect in English, focusing on (1). The account combines Reichenbach’s treatment of tense with the approach to the present perfect in terms of result states, associated with e.g. Jespersen. The proposal is formulated within the model-theoretic framework of event semantics, which is intended to account for various phenomena of semantic context dependence. I begin by outlining the framework of event semantics and the implementation of Reichenbach’s and Jespersen’s approach to tense and the present perfect within that set-up. A crucial idea put forward in the talk is that present perfect sentences contain indexical expressions referring to speech events and contextually salient events. The notion of indexical expressions, well known from the work of Kaplan, is thereby shown to be relevant to this particular linguistic phenomenon. The talk is ended by a comparison to alternative accounts of sentences like (1), in terms of conventional implicature. I conclude that my suggestion is a viable and empiricially supported alternative to such approaches.

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