The development of present perfect in L2 learners: Diachronic and synchronic approaches

Supervisor: Professor Leah Roberts

A) Rationale for the project

The present perfect (e.g., John has written a book) differs in a number of interesting ways across the Germanic languages (e.g., English, Dutch, German). The current usage of the present perfect vs. the past simple in English arguably reflects change due to language contact over time. In this project, the historical change in the English present perfect/simple past will be studied and linked to the grammatical knowledge of second language learners (e.g., English learners of Dutch, German learners of English, etc). Such research can push forward theories in both historical linguistic and SLA.

B) References that should be read (if you do not have access to these, please email

Klein, W. (1992). The present perfect puzzle. Language, 68. DOI: 10.2307/415793

Pancheva, R. & von Stechow, A. (2004). On the present perfect puzzle. In K Moulton & M Wolf (eds). Proceedings of NELS 34. Retrieved from

C) Research aims / questions

The aim of the research will be to link the development of the present perfect-past simple distinction in L2 learners to historical changes in the perfect in Germanic languages.

D) Methods

Combined paper-and-pencil tasks (e.g., judgments), production tasks (e.g., story-telling), and possibly psycholinguistic methods (e.g., eye-tracking during reading, visual world eye-tracking, EEG) and traditional historical linguistics research.

E) Skills and opportunities you could gain

You will gain critical appreciation of the fields of SLA and historical linguistics, and expertise in a range of cutting-edge psycholinguistic methods.