Universal and Existential Perfect in German

  • Monika Rathert


This article is about three interrelated things: the German Present Perfect, durative adverbs (bis ’until’, seit ’since’) and Extended-Now-adverbs (schon oft ’often ever since’, schon immer). For the Perfect and durative adverbs, an interrelation has always been suggested in the literature: there are universal/ existential ambiguities in Perfect-sentences containing durative adverbs. These ambiguities are claimed to disappear if there is no Perfect. The traditional conclusion is that there must be an intimate interrelation between the Perfect and durative adverbs. I will show with authentic data from the web that this is false, the universal/ existential ambiguities are not limited to the Perfect. - As for the Perfect and Extended-Nowadverbs, the literature has not claimed that there is an interrelation. But I will show that there is a very intimate one. The behavior of Extended-Now-adverbs makes the traditional Reichenbachian Perfect-semantics untenable and suggests instead that the correct Perfectsemantics is the Extended-Now-theory. As for the mentioned universal/ existential ambiguities connected to durative adverbs, there are actually two different kinds of them. The first one I call "simple universal/ existential-ambiguity"; it is associated with lang ’for’ and for. John has been in Boston for two weeks is ambiguous between the two weeks being somewhere in the past (this is called the existential reading) and the two weeks being in the past but abutting speech time (this is called the universal reading). I will analyze this in terms of underspecification: somewhere within the Extended-Now-interval denoted by the Perfect, the event takes place. The second of the aforementioned universal/ existential ambiguities associated with durative adverbs I call "complex universal/ existential-ambiguity". It is associated with bis ’until’, seit ’since’, until, and since. John has been in Boston since Tuesday is ambiguous between him being there all the time (universal reading) and him being there at least once (existential reading). So far, the literature has only acknowledged this ambiguity for since and (marginally) for seit ’since’, and only in combination with the Perfect. I will show with authentic data that this ambiguity exists with all durative adverbs and with all tenses. I will analyze it as a scope ambiguity of the durative adverb and a possibly covert frequency adverb.
How to Cite
Rathert, M. (2019). Universal and Existential Perfect in German. Proceedings of Sinn Und Bedeutung, 7, 243-256. https://doi.org/10.18148/sub/2003.v7i0.806