Two romance tenses and the Atlantic in between: a study of 'present perfect' and 'preterit' usage in present-day Spanish
Valle de Antón, Antonio D.
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Following previous studies of the syntactic variation on tense, this work reviews the historical development and present-day usage of two past tenses in LatinAmerican and European Spanish. It covers those aspects which connect the usage of the preterit and the present perfect with the speakers using them, in a mainly socio-pragmatic perspective. Specifically, it investigates the aspectual distinction, frequency of use of these tenses by speakers on both sides of the Atlantic, and the extent to which the present perfect is replaced by the preterit in Latin American Spanish. The study includes the contrastive description of aspectual values as utilized in European romances as opposed to the transplanted dialects of Latin America. The sources of data are Spanish-language contemporary newspapers reports and movie productions of recent years. The language samples examined thus range from formal written to informal spoken registers, as they are relevant in showing the semantic limits within which the two past tenses are utilized. Carrying out the project with data from these naturalistic settings facilitated covering data from several countries, while at the same time it afforded larger language samples than could be made available in the typical control study situations. The difference found in the use of the two past tenses on opposite sides of the Atlantic, which may have resulted from processes internal to the Latin and Spanish verbal systems, indicates that present-day Spanish is not as grammatically uniform or regionally ‘standard’ as generally assumed. A process of simplification for transplanted languages seems to have taken place in the regional varieties of Spanish found in America. The value of ‘recent past’ so dominant in the present perfect of Peninsular Spanish, and other European Romance languages, is fulfilled by the simple preterit in Latin-American Spanish, although the varying frequencies found in the language samples from different regions and register types also indicate that the aspectual value of the preterit is not entirely uniform in the New World.