CHAPTER 6. WE CAN CHOOSE OUR PATHS ABOUT TIME

There are no universal principles for choosing between the Present Perfect and the Past Simple. We may learn many classic rules, yet the truth is going to be that we need own resolves, in context.

 

Imagination can help shape language skill that works also real-life. Let us imagine a small office. A man is entering it. His name is Jim. He is asking about a woman who works there.

 

Real-life, we would notice some characteristics and qualities about Jim. Is he in a hurry? Is he anxious or relaxed? What is his manner of speaking ― fast, swift, steady?

 

We probably would perceive the time of day and the weather. Is it morning or afternoon? Is it warm and sunshiny, or cold and somber? Would we fancy raindrops on the windowsill?

Could this be Jim?

PICTURE: JIM SMILES

 

We may visualize the person in the office. Let us say she is a woman and her name is Jin. How could we describe her? We might use a dictionary to find at least five words about Jim and Jin.

EMOTICON--SMILE

 

 

PICTURE: JIN ON HER BREAK

Could this be Jin on her break?

 

Jim is looking for Jill. He meets Jin. He asks her about Jill (sound-alike and look-alike names really happen). Jin could say,

 

1. Jill left a few minutes ago;

or,

1a. Jill has just left.

 

 

We pictured the Simple and the Perfect with mapping values {ON} and {TO} in Chapter 4.

 

1. Jill left a few minutes ago;
{ON, a PAST ground in time};
GRAMMATICAL LABEL: Past Simple.

ILLUSTRATION: ON A PAST GROUND IN TIME

 

1a. Jill has just left;
{the variable TO, the PRESENT ground in time};
GRAMMATICAL LABEL: Present Perfect.

ILLUSTRATION: TO THE PRESENT GROUND IN TIME

 

How do we tell the difference?

 

Expression 1, “Jill left a few minutes ago”,
refers Jill’s departure to the PAST.

 

Expression 1a, “Jill has just left”,
connects Jill’s departure with the PRESENT.

 

Importantly, Jin could choose her way to speak about the same fact, Jill’s leaving the office, let us say, at 5 p.m. sharp.

 

PICTURE: MEDITATION

We do not always need meditation, to make language choices.

EMOTICON: A JOKE

 

Do expressions 1 and 1a narrate on divergent perceptions of the same real time? Not necessarily. Let us consider a concept of a time frame. We may think about a famous American park, Yellowstone.

 

PICTURE: THE YELLOWSTONE STEAMBOAT GEYSER

The Steamboat geyser in Yellowstone.

 

2. Have you ever been in Yellowstone?

2a. Did you go to Yellowstone?

 

The time frame in example 2 is open. It embraces time to the PRESENT. The question asks if we have visited the park ever in our lives.

PICTURE: TO A PRESENT GROUND 

 

We could imagine a 50-year-old man asked if he has ever been in Yellowstone. The time frame would embrace 50 years of his life (!)

 

PICTURE: TO A PRESENT GROUND, AN OPEN TIME FRAME

 

In example 2a, the time frame for the Simple Past is closed on a reference to the PAST.

 

PICTURE: ON A PAST GROUND

 

The PAST does not have to be distant, or — whatsoever — irrelevant. We close the frame, when we have the cognitive ground for it.

 

PICTURE: ON A PAST GROUND, A CLOSED TIME FRAME

 

In conversations, people usually seek a cognitive ground in common. To comprehend this, we can picture surfaces. This is how we could imagine our talk before 2a:

 

PICTURE: COGNITIVE GROUNDS

 

2b. Have you met your Yellowstone friend?

2c. He moved to Treasure ― yes.

 

Yellowstone and Treasure are neighboring American counties. Our friend introduces a PAST reference in time. We can try the same cognitive ground. We may ask,

A COGNITIVE GROUND IN COMMON

2d. Did you go to the park?

 

A cognitive ground also can be a notional ground. A notion may be a thought or a word. A notional ground is not any surface actually to stand on, but we can take stands ― express our views and opinions ― using our cognitive or notional grounds.

 

We could consider saying,
2e. Did you go to the Yellowstone National Park, when you met your friend?

 

However, when we know our cognitive or notional ground, we would be more likely to hear or say 2d. Example 2e might have linguistic redundancy, that is, say needlessly.

 

After all, making a conversation is about having something to talk over, not about saying as many words as possible.
EMOTICON: SMILE

  

*****

 

Theories happen, that American English “generally is getting rid of” the Perfect tenses, and they are much less in use in American than in British. Let us reflect on the language information for what we say.

What is language information? When we speak or write, our contexts and circumstances, along with our memories and language styles, can make entire scopes of language features or elements come together as in information pools.

 

The star symbol below can stand for an information pool. We can think about the symbol as showing various language features and elements pooling together.

PICTURE: SYMBOL FOR A LANGUAGE INFORMATION POOL

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What if Jin only would be telling that Jill just left, knowing that Jill is still in the office? Could we think about language information, if Jin would be lying about Jill?

 

Let us reckon on truth conditions. For example, many people know and believe that water boils at about 100 degrees Celsius, 212 degrees Fahrenheit, or 373 Kelvin.

 

There could be circumstances on Earth or in the outer space in which this would not be true, however.

 

PICTURE: SPATIALIZATION

We do not need to travel the outer space to learn American, but we are free to imagine even miscellaneous worlds.
EMOTICON: SMILE

 

PICTURE: ASTRONAUT SUIT

Saying, “At 100 centigrades”, could be the truth when telling how to set a kitchen oven. It could be a lie on a spaceship or another planet (!)

 

Someone saying that water always boils at the temperatures quoted above might not have knowledge of the world enough to tell other circumstances. He or she would not be lying. Telling a lie takes the intention to deceive.

 

Please mind that Americans use the Fahrenheit scale to tell temperatures. If an American says that our temperature is 100 degrees, it does not mean that we are boiling. In Fahrenheit, normal body temperature is about 97 to 99 degrees.

PICTURE: READING THE FAHRENHEIT, A JOKE

 

The Fahrenheit scale tells the freezing point of water as 32 degrees, and the boiling point as 212 degrees at one atmosphere of pressure.

 

*****

 

It is mostly grammar to have the language information. Let us think about a few examples.

 

Could we imagine a jealous husband?

 

PICTURE: A JEALOUS MAN
EMOTICON: A JOKE

3. Where have you been?

{TO, the PRESENT}, Present Perfect
PICTURE: THE PRESENT PERFECT ARROW CUE

 

3a. I’ve been to the movies.

{TO, the PRESENT}, Present Perfect
PICTURE: THE PRESENT PERFECT ARROW CUE

 

3b. Did you enjoy it?

{ON, the PAST}, Past Simple
PICTURE: THE PAST ARROW CUE AND A CLOSED REAL-TIME FRAME

 

The wife could say, especially if she does not want to answer too many questions,

 

3c. Actually, I didn’t like it much.

{ON, the PAST}, Past Simple

 

PICTURE: A WOMAN'S PORTRAIT

We do not have to look suggestive of portraits to tell the truth.
EMOTICON: A JOKE

 

The wife could be preparing a surprise birthday party for her husband. She could be lying about the cinema. The husband does not know it. Still, they would use their language knowledge to progress into a closed time frame.

 

They close the frame on a cognitive ground: they know they are speaking about the same time span.

 

3b. Did you enjoy it?

{ON, the PAST}, Past Simple

 

3c. Actually, I didn’t like it much.

{ON, the PAST}, Past Simple

 

*****

 

We do not always rely on clocks and watches, using the information that life brings.

 

WHEN? WHEN WE WERE THERE.

 

Let us imagine we are on a countryside vacation. We are staying at a motel. For a few days, we have our breakfast at the motel, before we go hiking.

 

PICTURE: ROUTE 66 ROAD SIGN

We may know U.S. Route 66 as the Will Rogers Highway, or the Main Street of America. Part the original highway is now a National Scenic Byway. Will Rogers was a famous American media personality of the 1920s and 1930s.

 

4. Have you had breakfast?
{TO, the PRESENT}, Present Perfect
(We are still at the motel. The motel belongs with
the PRESENT).
PICTURE: THE PRESENT PERFECT ARROW CUE AND AN OPEN TIME FRAME

 

4a. Did you have breakfast?
{ON, the PAST}, Past Simple
(We are out in the open. The morning in the motel belongs with
the PAST).
PICTURE: THE PAST ARROW CUE AND A CLOSED REAL-TIME FRAME

 

Obviously, time is good to reckon on time, too.

 

PICTURE: BEFORE A TIME

4. Have you had breakfast?
(It is morning, still; the time frame is open.)

PICTURE: REAL-TIME OPEN FRAME

***

PICTURE: FOUR O'CLOCK

4a. Did you have breakfast?
(It is afternoon; the time frame is closed.)

PICTURE: REAL-TIME CLOSED FRAME

***

Choosing our time frame, we can think about effects of something. We also may highlight our regards.

 

PICTURE: JIM'S UNCLE AND COUSIN

 

5. He has met Jim’s little cousin.
(He can tell the kid is very curious about the world; we are highlighting the personal impression that holds also in the present time.)

PICTURE: REAL-TIME OPEN FRAME

***

5a. He met Jim’s little cousin last summer.
(It was when he last went to visit Jim; we are highlighting the time and closing the frame on it.)

PICTURE: REAL-TIME CLOSED FRAME

 

Our language information does not belong with information technology. No computer could do our human thing: begin, learn, and think on basis of our indeterminate.

SYMBOLICS: INFINITY

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Let us return to our office conversation. Importantly, an American really could say in the context,

 

2. Jill just left.
(This is what our Jin tells Jim.)

 

The word “just” effectively marks the recency. There is no language information missing from example 2, when we compare it with 1a.

 

1a. Jill has just left.

 

To consider how we gather from experience, we can expand our phrases. Jin might say,

 

1b. She left a few minutes ago ― what a pity you did not come a little earlier. Probably she has gone out of the building by now.
(Jin perceives that Jill’s presence belongs with the PAST; Jill was in a hurry to leave.)

 

Jin also could say,

1c. Jill has just left ― why don’t you ask at the front desk, she still may be somewhere around.
(Jin links Jill’s presence with the PRESENT; Jill might be in the building.)

 

Finally, asking questions in Perfect tenses ― as “Have you ever been in Yellowstone?” ― is natural in American. It is not true that American is the kind of English to delete the Perfect Aspect.
EMOTICON: SMILE

 

Feel welcome to some reasoning on our linguistic time frame and gravitation.
6.1. THE TIME FRAME AND THE NOTIONAL GROUND

LINK 6.1. THE COGNITIVE GROUND AND THE TIME FRAME

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LINK: READ THIS IN A SLAVIC LANGUAGE, POLISH

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