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(1) We haven't spoken since the incident.

If the negation is regarded as being included in the situation described by the perfect, the perfect haven't spoken can be said to have a continuative/universal reading, because the perfect haven't spoken describes the situation of not speaking that continues from the incident up to now.

On the other hand, if the negation is regarded as being excluded from the situation described by the perfect and the negation is simply added to the perfect after the fact, so to speak, the perfect have spoken can be said to have an experiential/existential reading, because the perfect have spoken describes the situation of speaking that does not continue from the incident up to now. In this reading, you can say that We have not experienced the situation of speaking, or that such a situation has not existed.

Which is the correct interpretation of the perfect in (1)? In other words, should (1) be interpreted as receiving the continuative/universal reading or the experiential/existential reading?

And the same question for a non-verbal negation:

(2) You have done nothing but complain since we got here.

Which reading obtains in the perfect in (2)? The continuative/universal reading or the experiential/existential reading?

EDIT

The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Page 141) discusses the difference between the continuative and non-continuative reading of the perfect: enter image description here

Here, Tr is the time referred to (by the verb or verb group, e.g., have told, have been, told, was), and To is the time of orientation, which equates to the time of utterance in this question.

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    I can't understand what the paragraph starting with "on the other hand" means. "If the negation is excluded" would seem to mean a positive expression: We have spoken since the incident. But if you have, then it doesn't make any sense to say you "have not experienced the situation." If you have spoken, then you certainly have experienced the situation (of speaking). It would be far better if you actually provided example sentences of your possible interpretations rather than just describing them in general terms. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Aug 13 '19 at 5:18
  • @JasonBassford Sorry for the confusion. I've edited the question. Please let me know if it's clear what I'm asking. – JK2 Aug 13 '19 at 5:57
  • Is there any difference in meaning between your two options? Can you describe a scenario where one reading would apply but not the other? Personally, I do not see a difference between a "situation of speaking" not exiting, and being in a "situation of not speaking". – sky Aug 15 '19 at 8:28
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    @SConroy Please see the edit. – JK2 Aug 17 '19 at 1:48
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    I knew what you meant, but think it's a better question with the definition, since grammar terminology isn't always consistent. – S Conroy Aug 17 '19 at 2:20
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Judging by the discussion in of the present perfect in this source, I'd say that the sentence is both continuative and experiential.

While (37) presupposes the definition of state phase, the definition of state phase in turn presupposes the definition of state, which in most formal models involves universal quantification: 'if S is a state which holds at time t, all subintervals of t are also times at which S holds as well'. Accordingly, McCawley (1971, 1981), refers to the continuative PrP as the 'universal perfect'. The continuative PrP is said to indicate that all times within a present-inclusive interval are times at which the denotatum of the VP complement holds. McCawley's definition provides a clear explanation for the fact that the existential and continuative PrPs are synonymous under negation.

https://spot.colorado.edu/~michaeli/documents/Michaelis_perfect_JL.pdf

This isn't the main focus of the paper, which discusses several aspects of the perfect, but the whole thing came up for free on google, so I'll use it. You'd probably get a more thorough explanation by digging up the McCawley papers referenced in this one, or an education text focusing entirely on the usages of the present perfect. In any case, the author clearly states that the experiential and continuative present perfects are identical in negation.

So, according to Professor Laura A. Michaelis, the answer to your question is "both".

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  • Thanks. This is exactly what I've been looking for. – JK2 Aug 24 '19 at 1:19
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The short answer, as I see it, is continuative in both instances.
When correlated to a period of time that reaches to the present, the semantics of 'not doing something' must be continuative, since if you don't do something it will apply for the whole span of the period in question.

Longer answer.

First, just to clarify the terminology, a brief description follows of how 'experiential' and 'universal' are understood in the context.

The present perfect always establishes a temporal link between the past and present.
It can be used

  • to describe incidents that occur at some unspecified time in ones life before now: I have been to China -- the experiential usage;
  • to refer to incidents with duration, beginning at some time in the past and continuing to now sometimes called the universal reading: I have been here since 6pm;
  • or it refers to a result of a past incident that is valid in the present -- resultative. I have lost my key. I don't have it now.

Moving on to your specific examples...

Grammatically, the positive pendant of your first sentece would normally be

We have spoken since the accident.

It has an 'experiential' reading. The subjects have spoken at least once since the accident and the speaking incident/s clearly took place in some past time locus.

On the other hand,

We haven't spoken since the accident.

is not limited to one (or possibly more) incidents in time. It covers all instances in time since the accident and is thus continuative. You might argue -- semantically -- that in a temporal sense the positive counterpart is

We have been speaking continuously since the accident.

which is continuative.

Note: I wouldn't agree here with an 'experiential' label. In your question, making the (possible) case for the experiential reading, you write "We have not experienced the situation of speaking, or (...) such a situation has not existed." Imo this 'not experiencing the situation' is durative and can't be confined to some past time locus. -- Using CGEL terminology, I would say it's continuative rather than experiential.

Similarly it could be argued that

You have done nothing but complain since we got here

translates into the affirmative:

You have complained continuously since we got here.

-- the 'continuative' reading.

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  • That's not necessarily how to derive continuity . The more trivial negation of the negation is we spoke somewhen. The difference is contextual and not conveyed by not, I don't think. – vectory Aug 16 '19 at 16:48
  • @vectory. I don't understand what to derive continuity means (?). I was intending to use 'continuitive' according to how CGEL uses it. A definition, in fact, might improve the question. – S Conroy Aug 16 '19 at 16:54
  • If you're right, all negative perfect should be continuative. But I've never seen such a blanket statement. Moreover, according to CGEL's definition of the continuative reading (and all the other linguists seem to agree), the situation must continue throughout the period and include both the lower and upper boundaries. But in (1), the situation of us not speaking does not include the upper boundary, i.e., the time of speaking. – JK2 Aug 21 '19 at 1:31
  • I won't comment on the first. It's a whole new question. But on the last I understood it as A telling B that A hasn't spoken to C since the incident. Understanding it otherwise introduces another issue that you have brought up and discussed elsewhere. – S Conroy Aug 21 '19 at 13:18
  • @SConroy The first part wasn't a question. It was an observation. As for the second, it's not "another issue". It might be a piece of important evidence that can be used against blindly treating all these negative perfects as the continuative perfects. The most salient reading of We in a stand-alone sentence is that We refers to both the speaker and the listener. – JK2 Aug 22 '19 at 0:06
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(1) We haven't spoken since the incident.

Which is the correct interpretation of the perfect in (1)? In other words, should (1) be interpreted as receiving the continuative/universal reading or the experiential/existential reading?

ThoughtCo In English grammar, negation is a grammatical construction that contradicts (or negates) all or part of the meaning of a sentence. Also known as a negative construction or standard negation.

To simplify; we are using a using the opposite sense of the meaning of a statement to suggest something.

"​Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them."

or "​Always trust anyone who has brought a book with them."

However in your example (1) We haven't spoken since the incident. It is not a negation of any use, I will expand on this later. It is a simple statement of fact any attempt at translating into the affirmative destroys the meaning of the sentence. Thus contemplation of the negation of "We haven't spoken since the incident" is of no relevance other than to academia. Therefore the experiential/existential reading is also non existent in this case. Experiential is derived from experience or the experience of existence. If you have not spoken there is no existence and the negated sentence We have spoken continuously (without stopping) since the incident. also does not exist, for the reason that the meaning has changed.

Note learn grammar It is the alternative definition of Negation, as maintained by the likes of Merriam Webster, which refers to “the action or logical operation of negating or making negative”.

Example, I like to sing = I do not like to sing.

To which (1) We haven't spoken since the incident.

becomes We have spoken continuously (without stopping) since the incident.

To summarise (1) We haven't spoken since the incident.Should 2 be interpreted as receiving the continuative/universal reading


And the same question for a non-verbal negation:

(2) You have done nothing but complain since we got here.

Which reading obtains in the perfect in (2)? The continuative/universal reading or the experiential/existential reading?

(2) You have done nothing but complain since we got here.

or You have complained continuously since we got here.

Although in this case the answer is simple to define I will make the summary (1) You have done nothing but complain since we got here. or You have complained continuously since we got here..Should 2 be interpreted as receiving the continuative/universal reading

Free Dictionary ex•pe•ri•en•tial; adj; pertaining to or derived from experience.

Thesaurus Adj. 1. experiential - relating to or resulting from experience; "a personal, experiential reality" 2. experiential - derived from experience or the experience of existence; "the rich experiential content of the teachings of the older philosophers"- Benjamin Farrington; "formal logicians are not concerned with existential matters"- John Dewey existential empirical, empiric - derived from experiment and observation rather than theory; "an empirical basis for an ethical theory"; "empirical laws"; "empirical data"; "an empirical treatment of a disease about which little is known"

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  • If you're right, all negative perfect should be continuative. But I've never seen such a blanket statement. Moreover, according to CGEL's definition of the continuative reading (and all the other linguists seem to agree), the situation must continue throughout the period and include both the lower and upper boundaries. But in (1), the situation of us not speaking does not include the upper boundary, i.e., the time of speaking. – JK2 Aug 21 '19 at 1:31
  • @JK2 so you tend to agree with me then that quote "It is not a negation of any use. It is a simple statement of fact" and "Thus contemplation of the negation of "We haven't spoken since the incident" is of no relevance other than to academia" – Brad Aug 21 '19 at 1:39
  • Frankly, you've lost me throughout your logic. For example, you said "It is not a negation of any use, I will expand on this later", but where did you "expand on that"? All I understand from your answer is that you're saying that the continuative reading obtains in (1) and (2). – JK2 Aug 21 '19 at 1:52
  • Specifically, I don't agree with your argument (if that's what you're saying) that We have spoken continuously (without stopping) since the incident. is the affirmative counterpart of sentence (1). We have spoken continuously (without stopping) since the incident. is the affirmative counterpart of not (1) but We have NOT spoken continuously (without stopping) since the incident., I think. – JK2 Aug 21 '19 at 1:54
  • @JK2 At last you are beginning to answer your own question. You are correct "We have NOT spoken continuously (without stopping) since the incident". This is the whole point. This statement cannot have an affirmative. Now I will take it a step further. We haven't spoken since the incident is not a negation it is a simple statement – Brad Aug 21 '19 at 2:21
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You basically ask how to bracket the clause and imply two options

have (not spoken)

(have not) spoken

Why not both?

(have (not) spoken)

This may mean anything if no particular framework is given. In a theory of syntax no may be deemed the head of the verbal phrase, though I'm not aware of any particular theory.

On a semantic level, I'd argue that the negation belongs to the thematic verb spoken, because have has little semantics to it. This fits as far as one would expect a head to head things. In many languages (e.g. French, Gothic, Slavic, I am not aware of non-indo-european languages).

However, the auxhiliary verb has a little semantics, on a different level though. That's why not needs to work on different levels.

The question should rather be how this (for lack of a better word; PS: better underspecification) multi-polarity came about, while other languages need negative concord; Or why auxhiliary verbs are needed at all and whether no- is one of them. One should not make the mistake assuming the syntax were showing how speakers think on a basic level, except in the Sapir-Whorff sense, that speech can influence how speakers think (which is communication's primary purpose, so the Sapir-Whorff hypothesis is trivially true, but to what extent?).

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