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Grammatical aspect in multimodal language production: Using gesture to reveal event representations

Fey Parrill (Case), Benjamin Bergen (UCSD), & Patricia Lichtenstein (UC, Merced)

Saturday, May 19th
Buchanan B213 

Grammatical aspect is a pervasive linguistic device that, according to linguistic analyses,
allows speakers to encode different ways of construing events. For instance, the
progressive (I am writing a book) is thought to reflect increased focus on the internal
details of an event, as contrasted with the perfect (I have written a book). However, there
is to date no experimental evidence that speakers describing events using progressive
versus perfect aspect are in fact thinking about the same events differently. We used cospeech
gesture as a means to investigate what speakers’ event representations are like
when they produce progressive versus non-progressive utterances. We found that
progressive event descriptions were accompanied by longer-lasting and more complex
gestures, but only when participants described events originally presented to them in the
progressive. This evidence suggests that people are actually construing events differently
when they use different grammatical aspects, but that how they originally encoded the
events plays a role as well.

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