How Perfective is the Perfect in Afrikaans?

Susanne van der Kleij

Meertens Instituut
Although Dutch has been of great influence on the development of Afrikaans, there are major differences between these two languages. I will shed some light on differences in the verbal system.
Unlike in Dutch, almost all verbs in Afrikaans lack imperfect tense. To express past tense the perfect is used in most cases. In other cases it is possible to use the present tense. I will show that both the perfect and the present tense in Afrikaans differ from the equivalent tenses in Dutch, to cover the gap caused by the disappearance of the imperfect tense.
Looking at the perfect in Afrikaans, the question arises whether it is used aspectually, like the Dutch perfect tense, or temporally, like the Dutch imperfect tense. In the first case past tense is not expressed by the verb but is just implied by the perfectivity of the situation. If the perfect does express tense, the second possibility, then perfectivity has to be expressed in some other way. A third scenario is a perfect tense which in some cases expresses aspect and in other cases tense. I will argue that this last option is the right one.
The present tense plays an important role in the expression of past tense as well. Not only is it used in sentences that express past tense but it is also part of the perfect, which consists of a participle and the present tense auxiliary het ('to have'). I will discuss the properties of the present tense in Afrikaans in comparison with the properties of its counterpart in Dutch and will conclude that the present tense in Afrikaans has got the feature [alpha-TENSE], i.e. it does express tense, but the specific temporal interpretation is provided by the context. I will show that the ambivalent behaviour of the perfect tense is mainly due to the underspecification of the present tense.
Some modal verbs and the verb wees ('to be') still have an imperfect tense. To conclude this talk I will briefly discuss in what way these verb forms contribute to the tense system of Afrikaans.
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Syntactic Atlas of the Dutch Dialects (SAND)