Present perfect and preterit variation in the Spanish of Lima and Mexico City

Date

2021-08

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Abstract

In many Romance languages the present perfect (e.g., I have gone) tends to undergo a process of grammaticalization, gradually acquiring perfective functions and displacing the preterit (e.g., I went). In Spanish, the grammaticalization of the present perfect (henceforth, PP) as a perfective past has been observed in many Peninsular varieties. By contrast, American Spanish varieties favor the preterit, although some dialects, as Andean Spanish, present a higher frequency of use of the PP, possibly as a result of the contact with Quechua. Overall, there is a scarcity of quantitative variationist studies that investigate the distribution of the PP and the preterit in Spanish American dialects. This study aims to fill this gap by examining PP and preterit variation in Lima (Peru) and Mexico City (Mexico). First, I examined the overall frequency of the PP in each variety. Afterwards, I examined a set of linguistic and social variables in order to determine whether they influence the PP and preterit distribution. I extracted the data from 36 semi-structured sociolinguistic interviews (18 Lima + 18 Mexico City) in the PRESEEA corpus (Project for the Sociolinguistic Study of Spanish in Spain and America, 2014-). I collected 2,457 tokens (1,230 México City; 1,227 Lima) of verbs in PP and preterit, which represent the binary dependent variable. I included four linguistic independent variables (temporal reference, temporal adverbial, presence of the adverb ya, and presence of direct object) and three social independent variables (gender, age group, and education level of the participants). I analyzed the data with a mixed effects logistic regression in Rbrul (Johnson, 2009) in the statistical package R (R Core Team, 2020) with linguistic and social variables as fixed factors and the participant as random factor. Separate regression models were conducted for each speech community and then results were compared in order to best examine the social and linguistic factors that were most important in each speech community. Results show that the PP occurs in the 24.7% of the tokens in Lima, and in the 9% in México City. In both dialects, the linguistic contexts that more significantly favor the PP are the irrelevant temporal reference (59.7% in Lima, 37.2% in Mexico), and the presence of an atelic adverb (38% in Lima, 22.3% in Mexico City). As for social factors, the age group is significant in Lima, where the oldest group favor the use of the PP (34.2%), whereas the youngest group disfavor it (16.9%). There were no significant effects of social variables in Mexico. Such results suggest that, despite the difference in overall frequency, similar linguistic constraints rule the distribution of the PP and the preterit in these two varieties of Spanish, although Lima Spanish also presents innovative uses of the PP. However, whereas there is stable variation in Mexico, in Lima there are signs of ongoing semantic change through the expansion of the preterit observed through a change in apparent time (Labov, 1994, 2001). The possibility that the preterit is expanding in Peruvian Spanish is discussed in the final part of this work.

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Keywords

Present Perfect, Preterit, Grammaticalization, Variability, Spanish, Change in Progress

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