3

It seems to me that the truth conditions for "David baked cookies" are identical to "David has baked cookies," in that both are true if at some moment of time in the past "David bakes cookies" is true. Are there meaningful differences in the truth conditions for the simple and perfective aspects? If not in English, than in another language?

9
  • 3
    is this question asking specifically about the use of these verb forms in English or about the perfect and perfective aspects across languages in general? If the former it should probably be moved to either the english or ell sites
    – Tristan
    Oct 3, 2023 at 8:50
  • 1
    Consider that in real-world discourse, neither of your (English-language!) utterances would occur in isolation, and one can cook up (bake up?) contexts where one or the other doesn’t fit. It’s not safe to presume that natural language is amenable to rigorous logic. No, let me phrase that differently: natural language is not amenable to rigorous logic. Oct 3, 2023 at 12:50
  • 1
    Rigorous logic does not limit itself to isolated sentences.
    – user6726
    Oct 3, 2023 at 15:05
  • 1
    "David baked cookies." is not true at a moment of time in the past. It *occurred at a specific moment on the timeline in the past. Whereas "David has baked cookies" in relation to the present time of speaking occurred in the past at an undefined moment. That's basically the difference.
    – Lambie
    Oct 4, 2023 at 15:07
  • Often, as an English teacher I use this: Q: Have you been to London? [undefined past]. Ans.: Yes, I have. Q: When did you go to London? Ans: I went there last week [a specific point in the past].
    – Lambie
    Oct 4, 2023 at 15:09

2 Answers 2

1

There are two ways to interpret your question. One is about the semantic properties of two contrastive constructions in English which you give examples of, perhaps with an interest in what terms linguists use to describe those constructions. The second is about semantic analysis of human language, not specific to English, therefore the focus is on the terminology (i.e. "What do semanticists say about "past" versus "perfective" in human language, not just English). I think the former question about traditional grammar teacher terminology for English is off topic for here but not ELL. So then the question is whether you mean "perfect" or do you mean "perfective"?

There are some basic resources on the linguistic semantic side, the top two being Reichenbach Elements of symbolic logic and Klein Time in language. One problem with these classic works is that are models of English, not language, though of course any general model of language has to be able to handle English. There is a special issue of NLLT, (32.3), Aspect across languages: semantic primitives, morphosyntactic representation and the limits of cross-linguistic variation, which would be useful to you if you can get it. Bohnemeyer's chapter in that volume would be useful because it explains the background assumptions, in the course of offering an alternative viewpoint.

Informally, tense and aspect operators constrain (i.e., restrict) the temporal reference of utterances by expressing temporal relations that partially bound the time intervals the utterances refer to... Viewpoint aspects constraint event descriptions such that they are interpreted from a particular temporal reference time during which they are ongoing, completed, or in a pre- or post- state.

Table 1 in that article gives Klein's taxonomy of English: you example "David baked cookies" is Simple Past which is perfective aspect and past tense, and "David has baked cookies" is Present Perfect which is perfect aspect and present tense. Those two aspects differ in their topic-time logics, looking at the relationship of the topic time to the event time. The problem is that you have to figure out what the "topic time" and "event time" are for various sentences, and whether or not a certain time precedes or includes another time.

Since Klein's analysis is an analysis of English, I think that would be a very appropriate source for getting the posited differences between conventionalized English constructions, and their English grammar labels. The difference may or may not be one of truth conditions, depending on what is in "truth conditions", depending on whether felicitous usage is included in your theory of truth conditions. To pick a different kind of example, if I ask "Did Bill move the car, or the hose?", the answer "Tom bought the car" is not false, it is infelicitous. The two forms have the same bare-bones truth conditions, but they differ in implications, which as you can see from Bohnemeyer's article are also amenable to a kind of logical analysis.

0

Putting aside the issue that perfect is not an aspect in English, let me explain the difference. While you're occupied with seeing that the 1st sentence is non-perfect and the 2nd one is perfect, you're missing another and the main difference between the two sentences: the 1st one is in the past tense, while the 2nd one is in the present tense!

David baked cookies. (1)

This sentence tells us about what happened earlier, at that time some time ago. It means that some time ago David did some baking with some cookies being the result, we don't even know how long ago he indulged in that activity. Like “Yeah, David baked cookies, but now he bakes only bread, you can't get anything sweet from him now.”

David has baked cookies. (2)

This sentence tells us about the state of things now, it means that now David has newly-baked cookies. Let's hurry or he'll eat 'em all!

Every sentence with the verb in the present perfect tense can be paraphrased in such a way so as to have the verb in the present simple a.k.a. present indefinite tense and the word “now” in it:

I have lost my key > I have no key now
I have read that book > Now I know what the book is about
I have eaten pizza > Now I am not hungry

Note that the category of time — present vs. past — is not to be overlooked, it is more important than the category of perfect which only adds a touch of “just before” to the idea of time. It is the time that you should notice at once.

5
  • 1
    “David has baked cookies” does not imply that he has done so just now – it simply states that David currently possesses the experience of cookie-baking, acquired at some point in his life. It may well be that it was just now (“Come quick, David’s made cookies!”), but it may also be a long time ago (“David has baked cookies before, but I haven’t”). There is no touch of ‘just before’ inherent in the English perfect. Oct 4, 2023 at 10:45
  • @JanusBahsJacquet - Yes, sure, and that too. Enumerating all the possible interpretations in an exhaustive list wasn't my point. I just gave the general idea, we're on Linguistics SE, not on an English Learners one.
    – Yellow Sky
    Oct 4, 2023 at 10:52
  • @Lambie — Who told you that? You're wrong. “David baked cookies” is past simple and it doesn't tell us anything about any point of time, it tells us that David was a baker. Or that he did it usually, or that he did it all day long 365 days a year, or whatever, but it tells nothing about any point of time. Also, why past perfect? “David has baked cookies” is present perfect.
    – Yellow Sky
    Oct 4, 2023 at 16:42
  • @YellowSky I made a mistake; not paying attention. I meant to say present perfect. He might have baked cookies and not been a baker at all.
    – Lambie
    Oct 4, 2023 at 17:33
  • No, David has baked cookies. tells us it occurred in the past but not when. The difference between simple past and present perfect is just that. The simple past occurs at a point in time and the present perfect is past but we don't know when it occurred relative to the present time of speaking. //It is a point in time. He baked cookies on Monday, last Tuesday, last week. Etc.
    – Lambie
    Oct 4, 2023 at 17:34

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.