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Defying chronology: Crosslinguistic variation in reverse order reports

Norbert Vanek
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  • Centre for Research in Language Learning and Use, Department of Education, University of York, York YO10 5DD, UK
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/ Barbara Mertins
  • Institut für deutsche Sprache und Literatur, Fakultät Kulturwissenschaften, Technical University of Dortmund, Emil-Figge Strasse 50, 44227 Dortmund, Germany
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Published Online: 2019-03-19 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ling-2019-0006


Much of how we sequence events in speech mirrors the order of their natural occurrence. While event chains that conform to chronology may be easier to process, languages offer substantial freedom to manipulate temporal order. This article explores to what extent digressions from chronology are attributable to differences in grammatical aspect systems. We compared reverse order reports (RORs) in event descriptions elicited from native speakers of four languages, two with (Spanish, Modern Standard Arabic [MSA]) and two without grammatical aspect (German, Hungarian). In the Arabic group, all participants were highly competent MSA speakers from Palestine and Jordan. Standardized frequency counts showed significantly more RORs expressed by non-aspect groups than by aspect groups. Adherence to chronology changing as a function of contrast in grammatical aspect signal that languages without obligatory marking of ongoingness may provide more flexibility for event reordering. These findings bring novel insights about the dynamic interplay between language structure and temporal sequencing in the discourse stream.

Keywords: event linearization; grammatical aspect; non-chronological ordering; language-specific discourse organization


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Published Online: 2019-03-19

Citation Information: Linguistics, ISSN (Online) 1613-396X, ISSN (Print) 0024-3949, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ling-2019-0006.

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