Research article
Issue: № 11 (65), 2017

Дружинин А. С.1, Песина С. А.2

1Кандидат филологических наук, старший преподаватель, 2доктор филологических наук, профессор,

1МГИМО МИД России, Москва, Россия, 2СПбГУП, Санкт-Петрбург, Россия; МГТУ им. Г.И. Носова, Магнитогорск, Россия



Для современной методики преподавания времен английского глагола характерно использование приемов структурно-семантического анализа, которые предлагают учащимся рассматривать изучаемые грамматические единицы с формальных позиций без учета когнитивного фактора. В статье рассматривается педагогический потенциал когнитивно-семантического анализа слова на уроках английской грамматики, применение которого поможет по-новому взглянуть на языковое и коммуникативно-прагматическое значение глагольной формы Present Perfect.

Ключевые слова: когнитивно-коммуникативная грамматика, когнитивная семантика, когнитивный анализ, настоящее завершенное время.

A S. Druzhinin1, S. A. Pesina2

1PhD in Linguistics, Senior Lecturer, 2Doctor of Philology, Professor,

1MGIMO University, 2Saint Petersburg University of the Humanities and Social Sciences; MSTU named after G. I. Nosov



Today’s system of English tenses instruction is characterized by a wide use of structure-based semantic methods which offer English learners a purely formal perspective on the target grammatical phenomena without taking into account a cognitive factor. The article discusses the pedagogical potential of cognitive-semantic analysis of a word in the English grammar classroom where this method can help the learners look at the language and communicative meaning of the structure Present Perfect in a new, different way.

Keywords: cognitive-communicative grammar, cognitive semantics, cognitive analysis, present perfect tense.

It is a well-known fact that communication oriented approach underlies today’s system of language teaching with the premium basically placed on the learner’s communicative competence as the ultimate goal of the whole process of study. When it comes to linguistic skills which are understood to lay the basis for further communication, they are taught respectively according to the standards of the cognitive-communicative paradigm: students have to interact in a foreign language, or else create their foreign language discourse through context, or rather text-based (usage-based [8]) grammar and vocabulary learning. Admittedly, the principle of continuity between cognition and communication does not seem to apply to all EFL / ESL teaching practices here. In particular, the explanatory aspect of grammar instruction appears out of account of the cognitive-communicative approach. A case study of English tenses instruction across explanation and interpretation techniques will demonstrate how it is possible to change and upgrade the traditional system of grammar instruction.

In the traditional treatment  of  tenses  in  the  ESL  classroom,  this  is  all  about structures and their contextual meanings. Course books offer rules that explain how tense forms are built up, e.g. Present perfect is formed with the help of the auxiliary have / has and the past participle of the main verb or Present perfect is often used with these adverbs: already, just and so on.

In the first place, the understanding of any grammar or lexical unit implies formulating the notion of language itself as the basis for further analysis. The cognitive-communicative paradigm does not treat language as a system of signs, the exchange of which effects communication. Instead, it looks at language as a person’s ability to create signs in their mind by experiencing such a state of neural activity that makes it possible to communicate, or produce and interpret speech (cf. [1], [3]). Thus, all grammar phenomena are nothing short of a person’s language competence as knowledge (the product of their cognitive activity) one has to be sure that they can make themselves clear and be adequately understood in a given situation of communication [5, p. 111]. This knowledge is stored in memory systemically and prototypically, i.e. in the form of best images or language-as-a-system meanings of words and their formal modifications and combinability. The theories of cognitive prototype ([6], [9]) and lexical prototype ([1]) backed by findings of neurophysiologists and psychologists ([2]; [4]; [7]; [10]) provided a plausible bio-cognitive explanation of how a human’s mind operates on language signs: the meaning of a word is a certain state of the speaker’s / interpreter’s mental activity in which the (prototypical) image of a certain form comes to be associated with the (prototypical) image of its content, whereas the meaning of any grammar construction with this word or its grammatical form is the product of one’s knowledge of how and with what this word can potentially combine to express more complex ideas.

By these standards, at the explanatory stage of EFL / ESL grammar instruction, all grammar forms (verb aspect / tense forms, in particular) should thereby be viewed as combinations of verbs, one of which comes to be understood to such a point of abstraction (rather than being auxiliary) that it can be used together with another verb to express certain ideas of orientation in time and space. A vivid example of such a tense form is the so-called present perfect.

In very plain terms, a type of semantic analysis which is aimed at finding a relationship between the meaning of a word and a language speaker’s perception of reality they try to express in this word is called a cognitive-semantic one. The analysis of the semantic structure of the verb have will help find answers to the questions: why is the construction have + past participle so widely used in English to describe time and space relations?; what kind of space and time we perceive does it help describe?

At the first stage of the analysis, we are supposed to identify and define the central, prototypical meaning associated in the native speaker’s mind with this verb. The results of the analysis will help trace the process of semantic transfer this verb undergoes when combined with the past participle, which will allow us to describe the discourse meaning of this grammatical combination and propose a new, language-reality explanation to be used in the EFL / ESL grammar instruction.

As is known, the first, or most common, and easily recognizable discourse meaning of the verb is to possess, e.g. have a good character. In many other situations, the spectrum of our possession expands as far as we can feel and act: we can possess something or somebody as an owner (e.g. have a dog), as an eater (e.g. have breakfast), as a host (e.g. I’m having guests over for dinner today), as a user of an object associated with an action (e.g. have a cigarette = to smoke; have a bath = to bathe), as an experiencer (e.g. have fun; have a good time), etc. In a figurative way, the same goes for objects or events (e.g. The book has five chapters – it possesses chapters within the spectrum of its size and length; The meeting didn’t have much animation – it didn’t possess the characteristic of animation in the spectrum of its activities). Sometimes we can fall into the sphere of possession of other objects (e.g. The film had me in tears – I was in tears when I watched the film). On balance, the verb have refers to possession within the sphere of one’s capacity to act, to feel, to be of some quality, etc.

Another typical pattern with the verb have is its combination with the past participle of another verb (e.g. have stopped working). If we undertake an attempt to analyse the semantics of this frequently used word-form combination, we will see that have stopped working = ‘possess within one’s sphere (of capacity to work) a completed action of stopping’ = ‘possess within the sphere of working what is left after stopping’ = ‘possess the absence of working’ = be not working. It appears that this combination of forms helps the native speaker express the meaning of state (and with reason, due to the fact that have refers to the state of possessing something; Cf.: be through with something = have finished doing something; be out (about a fire) = have stopped burning).

Therefore, the so-called present perfect, or the combination of the present-tense form of have with the past participle (e.g. I have done) does not refer to an action which took place in the past and is connected to the present. Instead, it describes the present state of things when there is a completed action (there is something done or there is a ‘fulfilled existence’ of something): it can be now seen, felt, observed, thus, it is part of one’s relevant experience.

Guided by this definition, the interpretation of this word-form combination should be based on the answer to one simple questions: what is there now within the sphere of the subject? For example, the following phrases, which present obvious and challenging (according to traditional grammars) situations of use of the present perfect, can be understood in one simple way:

I have got a letter [= I have a letter now].

I have discovered this truth [= I know this truth now].

I have had a hard day [= I now have a hard day ‘behind me’].

It has been a pleasure to meet you [= It is / I have now a fulfilled pleasurable meeting of you];

Where have you been now? [= visits to what places do you have now?];

I have worked in Madrid for five years [=I have 5-year work experience in Madrid];

It has been the capital for 5 centuries [=there is now 500-year existence of it as the capital];

We have had problems in the past [= we know / have an idea of problems from our past].

As the next step of explanation and analysis, it is important to compare and contrast the use of the present perfect and past simple, which presents most difficulties to English grammar learners. For example:

(BBC commentator after a football match of the British team): Look at the footballers. They know they did enough for the game. They know they haven’t won it.

The game is not part of the footballer’s past experience, it happened in the past, therefore, the efforts of the footballers took place there and then (they did), while the result of the game (a win or loss) is relevant now and is what they (and the commentator) have (they haven’t won it).

In conclusion, the presented approach enables us to view the grammar phenomenon of the present perfect in the EFL / ESL learning and teaching as a word-form combination where the verb have is used to refer to the same notion of possession, but in a very abstract way. The description of the meaning of the whole construction can be formulated as follows: the present perfect denotes the present state of existence in which there is a completed action as part of the subject’s relevant experience (it is now seen, felt, observed).

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