Effects of linguistic context and world knowledge on the processing of tense and aspect: evidence from eye-tracking

AbstractThe present eye-tracking reading study investigated the real-time processing of the Lifetime Effect, which involves the integration of temporal verb morphology and knowledge of a referent’s lifetime (alive vs. dead). Context sentences described famous cultural figures and mentioned their lifetime status and occupation. Tense/aspect was manipulated in a following target sentence to contain either the present perfect or the simple future (e.g., She has performed / will perform...), both infelicitous with dead referents. The present perfect elicited lower ratings and longer total reading times at the verb and post-verb regions when following a deceased context, but high ratings overall. Meanwhile, the ‘dead/simple future’ condition elicited lower ratings and shorter reading times in later sentence regions than any other condition. Taken together, the results imply that world knowledge and an immediate context can jointly modulate the processing of subsequent verb tense/aspect, with striking differences between the present perfect and simple future.

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