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The impact of aspectual categories on the construal of motion events: The case of Tunisian Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic.



The aim of the present study is to document the role of aspectual categories in the construal of motion events both in visual processing as well as message generation for verbalisation, as observed in Tunisian Arabic (TA) and Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), two closely- related varieties with relevant contrasts in the types of verbal aspectual categories they encode. Building on earlier studies on the visual and verbal processing of motion events (cf. v. Stutterheim et al. 2012, Flecken et al. 2014) in the framework of Cognitive Typology (van der Auwera & Nuyts 2010) the focus of the present study lies on the impact of aspectual categories on the selection and perspectivation of spatial information in verbalizing motion events. In the present study, motion event description were elicited from native speakers of Tunisian Arabic (N=20) and Modern Standard Arabic (N=20) using highly controlled short video clips (N=32) showing different types of motion events, that vary with respect to the saliency of a potential end point of the motion. Critical items were embedded in randomized lists that also included filler items (N=40, causative events and states). Visual attention allocation during the verbalization task was registered using eye tracking. The findings reveal basic differences in the spatial and temporal categories selected for encoding - differences which are rooted in the respective linguistic systems: while TA, in contrast to MSA, has fewer forms to express directed motion via spatial concepts (path verbs, prepositions), its aspectual system is richer. The comparison indicates how the expression of directed motion in spatial terms in MSA is conveyed via temporal aspect (progression) in TA. The differences found at the linguistic ‘surface’ can be correlated with patterns of visual behavior. Potential end points of motion events attract visual attention earlier and to higher degree in TA compared to MSA. This can be interpreted as to reflect the strong interdependency of spatial information and the temporal perspective chosen for expression which is imposed by specifics of the TA language system and which plays an important role during the earliest stages in the speech production process, i.e., message generation. In conclusion, we will argue for the important role of psycholinguistic studies in advancing cognitive typology not just for differentiating across very remote languages but also for recognizing differences in form-function relations between closely related languages at a fine grained level.
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Not much is known about event apprehension, the earliest stage of information processing in elicited language production studies, using pictorial stimuli. A reason for our lack of knowledge on this process is that apprehension happens very rapidly (<350 ms after stimulus onset, Griffin & Bock 2000), making it difficult to measure the process directly. To broaden our understanding of apprehension, we analyzed landing positions and onset latencies of first fixations on visual stimuli (pictures of real-world events) given short stimulus presentation times, presupposing that the first fixation directly results from information processing during apprehension.
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