How do people describe events they have witnessed? What role does linguistic aspect play in this process? To provide answers to these questions, we conducted an experiment on aspectual framing. In our task, people were asked to view videotaped vehicular accidents and to describe what happened (perfective framing) or what was happening (imperfective framing). Our analyses of speech and gesture in retellings show that the form of aspect used in the question differentially influenced the way people conceptualized and described actions. Questions framed with imperfective aspect resulted in more motion verbs (e.g. driving), more reckless language (e.g. speeding), and more iconic gestures (e.g. path gesture away from the body to show travel direction) than did questions framed with perfective aspect. Our research contributes novel insights on aspect and the construal of events, and on the semantic potency of aspect in leading questions. The findings are consistent with core assumptions in cognitive linguistics, including the proposal that linguistic meaning, including grammatical meaning, is dynamic and grounded in perceptual and cognitive experience.
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