Defaults and indeterminacy in temporal grammaticalization: The 'perfect' road to perfective

Scott A. Schwenter, Rena Torres Cacoullos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


Adopting a grammaticalization path perspective on the envelope of variation, that is, the range of grammatical functions along the cross-linguistic perfect-to-perfective path, and employing the variationist comparative method, we compare use of the Present Perfect and Preterit in Mexican and Peninsular Spanish to identify the default past perfective form in each dialect. The linguistic conditioning of the variability provides evidence that the Present Perfect is becoming the default exponent of past perfective in Peninsular Spanish; in empirical terms, the default expression is the one appearing more frequently (combined effect of corrected mean and factor weight) in the most frequent and, crucially, the least specified contexts. The quantitative analysis of natural speech production - rather than elicited - data also suggests a different trajectory for perfect-to-perfective grammaticalization than the commonly assumed route via remoteness distinctions: The Present Perfect's shift from hodiernal to general perfective advances in temporally indeterminate past contexts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-39
Number of pages39
JournalLanguage Variation and Change
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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