Temporal connectives and verbal tenses as processing instructions
Evidence from French
In this paper, we aim to enhance our understanding about the processing of implicit and explicit temporal chronological relations by investigating the roles of temporal connectives and verbal tenses, separately and in interaction. In particular, we investigate how two temporal connectives (ensuite and puis, both meaning ‘then’) and two verbal tenses expressing past time (the simple and compound past) act as processing instructions for chronological relations in French. Theoretical studies have suggested that the simple past encodes the instruction to relate events sequentially, unlike the more flexible compound past, which does not. Using an online experiment with a self-paced reading task, we show that these temporal connectives facilitate the processing of chronological relations when they are expressed with both verbal tenses, and that no significant difference is found between the two verbal tenses, nor between the two connectives. By means of an offline experiment with an evaluation task, we find, contrary to previous studies, that comprehenders prefer chronological relations to be overtly marked rather than implicitly expressed, and prefer to use the connective puis in particular. Furthermore, comprehenders prefer it when these relations are expressed using the compound past, rather than the simple past. Instead of using the continuity hypothesis (Segal et al. 1991, Murray 1997) to explain the processing of temporal relations, we conclude that a more accurate explanation considers a cluster of factors including linguistic knowledge (connectives, tenses, grammatical and lexical aspect) and world knowledge.
Keywords: processing temporal relations, temporal discourse connectives, verbal tenses, processing instructions, the “continuity” bias, experimental pragmatics, French, offline acceptability experiments, self-paced reading experiments
Published online: 28 February 2019
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