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How could these explanations be understood?

McCoard (1978) (and also Sorensen, 1964: 78) takes great pains to disprove that 'He has died' means 'He is dead', a line of reasoning which he qualifies as "interesting but rather hazardous line of thought.

As Huddleston and Pullum (2002:145) observe, “She has broken her leg does not mean “Her leg is broken”, but this is the likely implicature.” That is correct, indeed, (1) does not directly say anything about the condition of “her leg” at the time the event is reported. Instead, merely reports a past event. That is what it “means.”

Martin Hewings in his book Avdanced Grammar in Use states exactly the opposite.

The connection with the present may also be that something happened recently, with a consequence for the present:

  • I have found the letter you were looking for. Here it is.
  • My ceiling has fallen in and the kitchen is flooded. Come quickly!
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  • I have always argued that the semantics of a present perfect construction are that the speaker is choosing to present a past event as having present relevance. Precisely what that present relevance is can vary quite a lot: often it is that a state resulting from the event still persists; sometimes it is that the event was recent; sometimes it is that the event is being presented as occurring in a sequence, or a time interval, that continues to the present. And there are other possibilities.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 21:40
  • @ColinFine How come these linguists have conflicting views on this issue? I mean, they state exactly the opposite. In this particular case, the resultative reading of the present perfect is mentioned, when an action or event takes place in the near past and it has current relevance. For example, I have broken my leg. (meaning - my leg is broken is now) but they argue that that is not the case. Then what does it mean?
    – Beqa
    Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 22:16

1 Answer 1

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The present perfect is particularly used when (1) There is no phrase refering to a past time for the verb. and (2) A "connection" to the present exists.

What the connection is can vary.

"She's broken her leg" would, in the absence of any other connection, suggest that the connection to the present is that "Her leg is currently broken".

But that is not the only possibility, and context can change the interpretation:

Like many other extreme mountain bikers, she's broken her leg, her pelvis, and her collarbone. But now she is back to full health and competing at international level.

The point his that that the "result" of breaking a leg might be "Now the leg is broken" or it might be "Now I have experience of trauma" or it might be "Now I understand what it is like to enter the medical system." These are all "results". So you can't deduce from "I've broken my leg" that the present "result" is "my leg is broken". It could be one of the other results.

McCoard is making the point that even "he has died" might have different results in the present from "he is dead". The choice of the verb "die" is to drive home his message: Even for the verb die the there may be different present results of the event.

What is the "connection to the present" - In this case, it is the description of her as a tough person who has overcome numerous difficulties, such as broken bones. We are describing her now, and that is the connection to the present.

Sometimes the connection is that the event happened recently. Sometimes the connection is that the state continued from a point in the past to the present. In many cases you can rephrase with the past tense, with minimal difference in meaning. Note that British English will use present perfect for many expressions that American English uses the past tense.

So... McCoard shows that there exist contexts in which "He has died" does not mean "He is dead". Sure, the point of this exercise is to demonstrate that this is the case even with verbs like "die". However it is a "dangerous exercise" since in nearly all contexts in which one would say "He has died" then "He is dead" is also true.

H&P say the same. The likely implication of "She has broken her leg" is that "Her leg is broken", but as above, only a likely implication, not certain.

Hewlings gives another sense of present perfect. It may also be used for something recent.

There is no contradiction here. Hewlings does not say the exact opposite, he just gives another example.

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  • The one being discussed in my original post is the resultative reading of the present perfect. We use it when we want to show that something that takes place in the near past, affects the present in some ways. As shown in Martin Hewings` examples, the result is visible. The letter is found and the kitchen is flooded. How come 'I have found the letter' and 'she has broken her leg' do not have the same meaning? Moreover, how come 'someone has died' does not mean that that person is dead? It is really confusing.
    – Beqa
    Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 22:46
  • @Beqa Yes. This is a confusing and subtle aspect of English. But I don't understand what you mean by "do not have the same meaning". The sense of the present perfect is the same in these cases: There was a past event "find letter" or "break leg" and we connect this to some result in the present. In the case of "someone has died", the result would almost always be that they are dead. But consider "Lazarus has died", or "I have died on stage as Romeo". The sentence "I have died" is grammatically correct. In all cases it connects the past event to the present. The meaning is the same.
    – James K
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 6:49
  • When we choose to use the resultative perfect, we report events which took place not so long ago, without giving details as to when exactly those events happened. So, when I say - 'Tom has broken his leg' I know that the listener will understand my statement as -'Tom`s leg is broken now'. Huddleston and Pullum argue that even if I say 'Tom has broken his leg', it does not mean his leg is broken, which creates confusion. We deliberately choose the resultative perfect to emphasize ''resultativeness' of the event which is manifested in the present.
    – Beqa
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 11:53
  • When we choose to report that someone is no longer alive, we choose the resultative present perfect because we know for sure that people around us will understand our words as - 'that person is biologically dead' and the chances that he will be resurrected are virtually non-existent. When I say 'she has won the tournament' that would mean that she has managed to attain the first place in that tournament; I am reporting a fact that took place in the near past. The chances that her status may change are also non-existent because the time period between the Td and Tr is too small.
    – Beqa
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 12:20
  • Yes, that is correct, and that agrees with all three sources in your question. There's no contradiction.
    – James K
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 17:46

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