The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LFRG 10/28 - Yadav Gowda

On the Existential Perfect reading of statives


English perfect constructions involving stative predicates such as be in the attic are ambiguous between an (E)xistential-perfect and (U)niversal-perfect reading. The U-perfect reading is the most readily available reading, but the E-perfect reading can be forced with certain modifiers, such as three times.



  1. I have been in the attic since I moved in. (U-perfect, E-perfect)
  2. I have (only) been in the attic three times since I moved in. (E-perfect) 


Previous accounts of such sentences (e.g. Mittwoch 1988, Giannakidou 2003) have suggested that E-perfect readings involve coercion of the stative predicate into an eventive predicate.


In this talk, I will argue that these sentences do not involve any eventive structure, and that such readings can straightforwardly be derived using the operation of topological closure, which Giorgi and Pianesi (1997, 2000) argue is integral to deriving the meaning of perfective verb forms.

As additional support for this account, I will provide a compositional semantics of Kannada sentences like (2), which exhibit a peculiar (and as far as I know, unattested) reading which is a combination of the E-perfect and U-perfect readings.


(2) 2001-rinda   ī      kōṇe-yalli   mūru  bari   iddāne.

    2001-ABL     this   room-LOC     three times  be.PRES.1SG

    Lit: “I am in this room three times from 2001.” 

    ≈ “This is the third time I have been in this room since 2001.”   


I will argue that such a reading can be derived through topological closure, but cannot be derived through eventive coercion.