ArticlePDF Available

Linguistic and non-linguistic cues in motion event endpoint description: The selection between English to and towards

Authors:

Abstract and Figures

The current study aims to explore the factors that could affect people’s description of a motion event endpoint. The study conducted by Liao, Dijkstra, and Zwaan (2021, Language and Cognition, 13[2], 161–190) found that two non-linguistic factors (i.e., the actor’s goal and the interlocutor’s social status) affect people’s choice between two Dutch directional prepositions (i.e., naar and richting) during event description tasks. The current study aims to extend these findings by examining the choice between a similar pair of directional prepositions in English (i.e., to and towards). Moreover, we aim to study whether grammatical aspect (i.e., the English simple present and the English progressive aspect) affects the sensitivity to the two non-linguistic factors and consequently also affects how people describe a motion event endpoint. In Experiment 1, we used the English simple present for all sentence stimuli (e.g., he walks (?) the trash bin). We found a significant effect of Interlocutor (the interlocutor’s social status) on preposition choice, but no significant effect of Intention (the actor’s goal). In Experiment 2, we replaced the English simple present with the English progressive aspect (e.g., he is walking (?) the trash bin). We found significant main effects of both Interlocutor and Intention on preposition choice. These findings extend those reported in Liao et al. (2021) Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 35(4), 498–520 in that protagonist intention and interlocutor status were found to indeed affect motion event endpoint description. The current findings furthermore show that grammatical aspect affects people’s sensitivity to these factors, thus also affecting how a motion event endpoint is described.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Vol.:(0123456789)
1 3
Memory & Cognition
https://doi.org/10.3758/s13421-022-01371-6
Linguistic andnon‑linguistic cues inmotion event endpoint
description: The selection betweenEnglish to andtowards
YiyunLiao1· KatinkaDijkstra1· RolfA.Zwaan1
Accepted: 29 October 2022
© The Author(s) 2022
Abstract
The current study aims to explore the factors that could affect people’s description of a motion event endpoint. The study
conducted by Liao, Dijkstra, and Zwaan (2021, Language and Cognition, 13[2], 161–190) found that two non-linguistic
factors (i.e., the actor’s goal and the interlocutor’s social status) affect people’s choice between two Dutch directional prepo-
sitions (i.e., naar and richting) during event description tasks. The current study aims to extend these findings by examining
the choice between a similar pair of directional prepositions in English (i.e., to and towards). Moreover, we aim to study
whether grammatical aspect (i.e., the English simple present and the English progressive aspect) affects the sensitivity to
the two non-linguistic factors and consequently also affects how people describe a motion event endpoint. In Experiment 1,
we used the English simple present for all sentence stimuli (e.g., he walks (?) the trash bin). We found a significant effect of
Interlocutor (the interlocutor’s social status) on preposition choice, but no significant effect of Intention (the actor’s goal).
In Experiment 2, we replaced the English simple present with the English progressive aspect (e.g., he is walking (?) the
trash bin). We found significant main effects of both Interlocutor and Intention on preposition choice. These findings extend
those reported in Liao etal. (2021)Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 35(4), 498–520 in that protagonist intention and
interlocutor status were found to indeed affect motion event endpoint description. The current findings furthermore show that
grammatical aspect affects people’s sensitivity to these factors, thus also affecting how a motion event endpoint is described.
Keywords The actor’s goal· The interlocutor’s social status· Grammatical aspect· Directional prepositions· Motion event
endpoint description
Introduction
To describe an event in words, we first need to process all the
relevant information about the event and then decide what
message we want to convey to achieve a certain communica-
tive purpose. These processes of message planning before
the formation of utterances are called the conceptualization
phase (Levelt, 1989, 1999). Moreover, to convey these mes-
sages through language, we also need to choose what word
and grammar within the language of utterance are the most
suitable according to the current situation. Hence, event
description is a combination of event conceptualization and
linguistic constraints (grammar and word choice).
In many motion event description and conceptualization
studies, converging evidence shows that the endpoint of a
motion event is more salient than the source of a motion
event (e.g., Lakusta & Carey, 2015; Lakusta & Landau,
2005, 2012; Papafragou, 2010; Regier & Zheng, 2007). Spe-
cifically, endpoints are mentioned more often (e.g., the bird
flew to a tree) than sources (e.g., the bird flew from a sign-
post) in motion event descriptions (e.g., Papafragou, 2010).
Endpoints are also remembered better than sources after the
description task (e.g., Lakusta & Landau, 2012). Many stud-
ies have discussed this endpoint-bias phenomenon and the
reasons why it occurs (e.g., Johanson etal., 2019; Papafra-
gou, 2010). Hence, we do not elaborate on this matter any
further. In the current study, we are particularly interested in
the factors that might affect how people describe a motion
event endpoint, given its more salient status compared with
other motion event components.
* Yiyun Liao
yiyunliao@outlook.com
1 Department ofPsychology, Education andChild
Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam, P.O. Box1738,
3000DRRotterdam, theNetherlands
Memory & Cognition
1 3
The first factor that we find relevant and important to
the identification of a motion event endpoint during motion
event description is the intention of the moving agent.
Anticipating upcoming information and predicting the near
future is a fundamental part of our daily life. Given that
human actions are often goal directed, knowing the goal
of the actor can greatly help the observer to understand an
ongoing activity by predicting its possible endpoint (Zacks,
2004). For instance, if you see that your sister is drawing and
you know that your sister wants to draw a house, you will
then not expect her to stop after she just finished drawing a
roof. A predicted endpoint of her drawing activity will be
a complete picture of a house. Studies have shown that the
ability to infer an event endpoint from the actor’s goal has
already been found in infants (Baldwin etal., 2001).
In motion event studies, researchers have also discovered
a strong connection between the animacy/intentionality of
the agent and the memory of the event endpoint during event
cognition (Lakusta & Carey, 2015; Lakusta & Landau, 2012).
However, most of these studies focus on comparing animate
agents with inanimate agents. Not much attention has been paid
to comparing animate agents, such as the extent to which the
presence/absence of a clear goal of an animate agent affects the
construal of a motion event endpoint. Therefore, in the current
study, we would like to investigate this aspect. We expect to find
a strong connection between the actor’s goal and the identifica-
tion of a motion event endpoint during event description.
Another factor that we consider important during the pro-
cess of event description is the formality of the speech context.
As proposed by Heylighen and Dewaele (2002), there are four
parameters that determine the degree of formality in speech
context—namely, the speech topic, the setting, the speech
modality (written vs. spoken), and the interlocutor. In the cur-
rent study, we are especially interested in examining the effect
of the social status of the interlocutor (i.e., the social distance
between the speaker and the interlocutor) on motion event end-
point description. As social animals, we care about the social
status of our audience/our interlocutor. Many studies have
provided evidence that speakers accommodate their speech
in correspondence to the knowledge of their interlocutor to
achieve successful communication (accommodation theory;
Giles & Powesland, 1975; Giles & Smith, 1979). However, in
most of the motion event description studies, the effect of the
interlocutor is often overlooked and is certainly understudied.
Event description rarely happens in isolation. An audience
or an interlocutor is usually involved. Regarding event end-
point construal, it is probable that an event endpoint will be
defined differently depending on the social distance between
the speaker and the interlocutor. Just take a simple daily
event as an example: cleaning dishes. Depending on who is
listening: their mom or an exacting manager of a three-star
Michelin restaurant, speakers might even define the endpoint
of cleaning dishes differently. In the latter case, the standard
of speaking of completing cleaning dishes should be much
higher. Therefore, in the current study, we are interested in
whether the effect of the interlocutor’s social status will also
affect motion event endpoint description.
Clearly, there is an advantage of combining the effects of
both the actor’s goal and the interlocutor’s status in motion
description studies. However, rarely have any studies have
done so, except for a recent study conducted by Liao etal.
(2021). In their study, two Dutch directional prepositions
(i.e., naar ‘to’ and richting ‘towards/direction’) have pro-
vided a nice paradigm for this. Specifically, they examined
the extent to which the abovementioned two factors affected
the choice between the two Dutch directional prepositions
in a motion event description task. Before we discuss their
study in more detail, we would like to first explain what
directional prepositions are and why they make a nice para-
digm for studying motion event endpoint description.
Directional prepositions, as part of a verb phrase, contribute
to the telicity of an event—specifically, whether a motion event
has an inherent endpoint or not. There are two types of direc-
tional prepositions: telic directional prepositions and atelic
directional prepositions (Krifka, 1998; Zwarts, 2005). The use
of telic directional prepositions, such as naar in Dutch and to in
English, implies that a motion event is telic and has an inherent
endpoint (e.g., he is walking to the bus station). In contrast, the
use of atelic directional prepositions, such as richting in Dutch
and towards in English, only implies the direction of a motion
event but not its endpoint. Therefore, a motion event that is
described with an atelic directional preposition is considered
lacking an inherent endpoint and is, therefore, atelic (e.g., he
is walking towards the bus station). Given the definition of
directional prepositions and their classification, studying the
choice between the two types of direction prepositions does
provide a useful paradigm for us to explore the factors that
could affect motion event endpoint description.
The current study is an extension of Liao etal. (2021).
We aim to investigate the effects of the actor’s goal and the
interlocutor’s status on the choice between a different pair
of directional prepositions in a different language, that is,
two English directional prepositions (i.e., to and towards)
during motion event description. Furthermore, the current
study also goes beyond Liao etal. (2021). Before we explain
why this is the case, we would like to first provide a brief
summary of Liao etal. (2021) and highlight the limitation
of their study that we are about address in the current paper.
A brief summary ofLiao etal. (2021)
andthelimitation
Liao and colleagues (2021) adopted a motion event descrip-
tion task and examined the effects of the actor’s goal and
the interlocutor’s status on the use of two Dutch directional
prepositions (i.e., naar and richting).
Memory & Cognition
1 3
They found that if the actor’s goal can be clearly inferred
from the referential scenario, Dutch speakers use the telic
preposition naar more often, compared with if no clear
actor’s goal is presented in the scenario. For example, if
the referential scenario depicts a man carrying a trash bag
and a trash bin in the near distance, then his goal can be
easily inferred from the scenario—that is, to go to the trash
bin to dispose of the trash bag. However, if the referential
scenario depicts a man carrying nothing and a trash bin in
the near distance, the goal of the person is then not as clear
as in the previous scenario. Consequently, Dutch speakers
use naar more often (e.g., hij loopt naar de container—‘he
walks to the trash bin’) when describing the first scenario
to indicate the endpoint of the motion event is the trash bin,
compared with when describing the second scenario. The
opposite pattern is found for the use of the atelic preposi-
tion richting. That is, Dutch speakers use richting more
often (e.g., hij loopt richting de container—‘he walks
towards the trash bin’) for the second scenario than for the
first scenario. This is because the use of richting does not
indicate the reference object is the endpoint but just the
actor’s moving direction.
Furthermore, they found that when the interlocutor is a
police officer, Dutch speakers are more likely to use richt-
ing than when the interlocutor is a friend. This is because
the social distance is larger between the speaker and the
interlocutor if the interlocutor is a police officer, compared
with if the interlocutor is a friend. When the social distance
is larger, the speech context is more formal (Koppen etal.,
2019). When the speech context is more formal, people also
tend to be more specific and cautious with their statements.
Given that richting only refers to the moving direction,
not the endpoint of a motion event, the use of richting in
a motion event description is considered a more conserva-
tive and more cautious expression compared with the use of
naar because the speaker does not commit to a destination.
Importantly, the effect of Interlocutor is also found larger
than the effect of Intention (odds ratios: 1.72 vs. 3.79) in
Liao etal. (2021), which highlights the importance of con-
sidering contextual factors in event description studies.
In Liao etal. (2021), only one verb form was used for all
sentence stimuli—that is, the simple present tense (e.g., Hij
loopt naar/richting de container—‘he walks to/towards the
trash bin’). A possible effect of grammatical aspect is ruled
out in their study, given that there is no grammaticalized
progressive marker in Dutch (Flecken, 2011). The unmarked
simple present is the major way to express ongoing events
in Dutch. This is especially the case when ongoing direc-
tional motion events are described (e.g., Hij loopt naar het
station—‘he walks to the station’; Liao etal., 2020; von
Stutterheim etal., 2009).
However, the possible effect of grammatical aspect can-
not be ruled out if an aspectual language such as English is
studied. In English, the simple present is not the only way to
express ongoing events. In fact, English has a grammatical-
ized progressive marker (i.e., -ing) that plays the main role
in expressing ongoing events, including ongoing directional
motion events (e.g., he is walking to/towards the church).
As shown in many previous language-based event compre-
hension studies (e.g., Anderson etal., 2008; Ferretti etal.,
2007; Madden & Zwaan, 2003; Matlock, 2011), grammatical
aspect provides individuals with different viewpoints on the
internal temporal structure of an event. When progressive
aspect is used to express an event, more details about the
event, especially the details relevant to the ongoing phase of
the event, are activated during event comprehension, com-
pared with when perfective aspect is used (e.g., Madden &
Zwaan, 2003).
It is possible that the use of the English progressive
aspect also creates a different event representation, com-
pared with the use of the English simple present (e.g.,
he walks to the trash bin vs. he is walking to the trash
bin). In the current study, we are specifically interested
in whether the use of the simple present and the use of
progressive aspect in English would result in people’s
different sensitivity to the two factors that we are inves-
tigating, namely the actor’s goal and the interlocutor’s
status. The more sensitive people are to these two fac-
tors, the larger effects they might create on people’s event
endpoint description, which can be shown based on their
choice between to and towards. Liao etal. (2021) did
not investigate this possibility, which is a limitation of
their study. Our current study, therefore, goes beyond the
previous work by exploring the potential effect of gram-
matical aspect on event comprehension, and consequently,
on event endpoint description.
In the next section, we provide a theoretical comparison
between the English simple present and the English pro-
gressive aspect in their differences in representing ongoing
events. A special focus will be put on how they can possibly
affect the sensitivity to the two non-linguistic factors that we
manipulate in the experiments.
The simple present andprogressive aspect
inEnglish
The simple present in English is often introduced in a dic-
tionary as representing habits (e.g., I smoke), general truth
(e.g., he has long hair), or even future events (e.g., our meet-
ing starts at 10:00 am), and so on (see, for example, https://
www. ef. com/ wwen/ engli sh- resou rces/ engli sh- gramm ar/
simple- prese nt- tense/). In these cases, the English simple
present is “timeless” (e.g., Vraciu, 2015). It takes a specific
time reference from its linguistic environments, such as from
the adverbial phrases (e.g., at 10:00 am), or it is used with a
state (e.g., he has long hair), or it functions as a “stativizer”
Memory & Cognition
1 3
(Vraciu, 2015, p. 294) on dynamic predicates and creates a
habitual reading of the dynamic event (e.g., I smoke).
The English simple present can also be used to describe
dynamic ongoing events, such as in sports commentaries and
narratives, without creating a habitual interpretation of these
events. However, progressive aspect is still the major way of
expressing ongoing events in English. Therefore, the ques-
tion is what the differences are between the simple English
present and the English progressive aspect when they are
both used to describe ongoing events.
Many linguists have already provided some answers. One
main difference is that the linguistic constructions might be
different in representing event details. There is already much
empirical evidence that the use of the English progressive
aspect directs the comprehender’s attention to more event
details, such as the location of the event (Ferretti etal.,
2007), the intention of the actor (Sherrill etal., 2015), and
the manner of action (Madden-Lombardi etal., 2017), com-
pared with the use of perfective aspect.
The English simple present, however, often leads to a per-
fective interpretation of an event (see Cowper, 1998; Vraciu,
2015). When an event is viewed with a perfective viewpoint,
this event is considered complete and “an unanalyzable
whole” (Vraciu, 2015, p. 295). This perfective viewpoint
provided by the English simple present is thus in contrast
with the internal viewpoint provided by the English progres-
sive aspect and is similar to the use of the English perfective
aspect (i.e., -ed; Williams, 2002).
When the English simple present is used, for example, in
sports commentaries (e.g., Inzaghi passes the ball to Totti;
Williams, 2002, p. 1239), it represents the event (e.g., ‘to
pass the ball’) in a holistic way, even though this event can
still be happening at the moment of speech. By doing so, the
speaker aims to push the whole story forward. Hence, sports
commentaries in which the English simple present is used
always consist of a series of events, for example, Inzaghi
passes the ball to Totti, he shoots, and the ball bounces off
the goalpost (Williams, 2002, p. 1241). It is odd to use the
English progressive aspect here (i.e., *Inzaghi is passing
the ball to Totti. He is shooting. The ball is bouncing off the
goalpost). This is because the English progressive aspect
emphasizes the progression of each event and places a spot-
light on the ongoing phase of each event, which is part of an
event instead of a whole event. This would affect the fluency
of the development of the whole scenario/story.
Therefore, it is relevant to test whether the use of the
English progressive aspect indeed creates a more salient rep-
resentation of the internal temporal structure of an event,
such as the actor’s manner, compared with when the English
simple present is used. In the current study, the actor’s goal
is indicated by the actor’s walking manner (e.g., holding a
trash bag or not) in the referential scenario, which is relevant
to the ongoing phase of the walking event. It is possible that
the use of progressive aspect makes the participants more
aware of the information relevant to the ongoing phase of
the event (e.g., the actor’s goal/ the actor’s manner of walk-
ing) than when the English simple present is used. When
the English simple present is used, the event is viewed as a
whole, which might defocus the ongoing phase of the event
and consequently, decrease the salience of our manipulation
on the actor’s manner of walking (e.g., holding a trash bag
or not) in the description task.
There is another difference between the English simple
present and the English progressive aspect, when they are
both used to describe ongoing events. When the English
progressive aspect is used to report a scenario (e.g., They’re
all coming out of the front door. Two of them are wearing
masks. One of them’s opening the car door and the others
are getting in. They’re driving off now towards Friar Lane;
Williams, 2002, p. 1247), the unpredictable nature of the
event is highlighted. The speaker is probably not sure about
what is going to happen next and, therefore, chooses only to
focus on describing the progression of the event. On the con-
trary, the English simple present is often used to report situa-
tions that are “rule-based,” “complete,” and “self-contained”
(Williams, 2002, p. 1248), such as sports, ceremonies, or
demonstrations. Under these circumstances, the speaker is
not focusing on reporting an unpredictable scenario whose
progression is important to the hearer. Instead, the speaker
is trying to create an “eventful” scenario in which proper
developments of complete events are presented.
Therefore, it is also important to test whether the use of
the English progressive aspect will lead to a larger effect
from the interlocutor’s status, compared with the use of the
English simple present. It is possible that the use of the Eng-
lish progressive aspect makes the participants more aware
of the speech context (i.e., to whom they are describing the
scenario) than when the English simple present is used,
given that the former highlights the unpredictable nature
of an event, whereas the latter does not. For instance, when
the speaker is aware that an event is still happening and its
development is unpredictable, to whom they are asked to
report this event could create a stronger effect on the cau-
tiousness they have with their statements than when the
speaker is not aware of the unpredictable nature of the event
they are describing.
The current study
The first goal of the current study is to investigate the effects
of two non-linguistic factors (i.e., the actor’s goal and the
interlocutor’s status) on the choice between two English
directional prepositions (i.e., to and towards). Specifi-
cally, we are interested in whether the observed effects of
the actor’s goal and the interlocutor’s status in Liao etal.
(2021) are upheld when another language is studied. English
Memory & Cognition
1 3
is chosen because English and Dutch are different in their
aspectual systems. This relates to the second goal of our
study, which is to investigate the effect of one linguistic cue,
grammatical aspect, on the sensitivity to the two non-lin-
guistic factors, and consequently on motion event endpoint
description. This second goal of our study goes beyond Liao
etal. (2021), in that in their study, the effect of grammatical
aspect was not considered.
We combine both comprehension and production tasks in
the current study. The comprehension task targets the com-
prehension of the simple present and progressive aspect used
in the sentence stimuli (e.g., he walks/is walking (?) the trash
bin). At the same time, participants performed a description
task by choosing between to and towards to complete the
sentence stimuli (e.g., he walks (? to/towards) the trash bin).
In Experiment 1, we used the simple present for all our
sentence stimuli (e.g., he walks (?) the trash bin). This is a
reasonable start, given that our first goal is to extend the find-
ings in Liao etal. (2021; i.e., the main effects of the actor’s
goal and the interlocutor’s status on preposition choice dur-
ing motion event description). By using the English simple
present in Experiment 1, we managed to keep the surface
form of the verbs of our sentence stimuli (e.g., he walks
(?) the trash bin) the same as those in Liao etal. (2021).
Our hypothesis for Experiment 1 is that there should be the
main effects of both the actor’s goal (Intention) and the inter-
locutor’s status (Interlocutor) on the choice between to and
towards in the event description task. At the same time, we
are aware of the possibility that the use of the English simple
present might weaken the effects of the two factors.
In Experiment 2, we replaced the English simple pre-
sent with the English progressive aspect for all the sentence
stimuli (e.g., he is walking (?) the trash bin). Even though
we have discussed the possible differences between the Eng-
lish simple present and the English progressive aspect in
affecting the sensitivity to the two factors (i.e., Intention and
the Interlocutor) that we manipulate in the description task,
these lines of thought are still speculative. To our knowl-
edge, in addition to the above-discussed linguistic analyses,
no experimental studies have been published to date on com-
paring the English simple present to the English progressive
aspect regarding their role in representing event details, let
alone from the perspectives of studying the actor’s goal and
the interlocutor’s status. Hence, we decided to formulate two
hypotheses for Experiment 2:
Hypothesis 1 The English progressive aspect does not differ
from the English simple present in affecting people’s sensi-
tivity to the two factors that we manipulate in the descrip-
tion task (i.e., Intention and Interlocutor). The effects of the
two factors (on the use of to and towards) that we obtain
in Experiment 2 should be the same as those we found in
Experiment 1.
Hypothesis 2 The English progressive aspect does differ
from the English simple present in affecting people’s sen-
sitivity to the two factors (i.e., Intention and Interlocutor).
The English progressive aspect should make people more
sensitive to the two factors in the description task, compared
with the English simple present. We should find the main
effects of both Interlocutor and Intention (on the use of to
and towards), and the effects of both factors should be larger
than those found in Experiment 1.
Frick’s COAST method andsequential testing
As in Liao etal. (2021), we adopted Frick’s COAST method
for both experiments conducted in the current study. This
method preserves an overall alpha level of .05 while allowing
for sequential testing (Frick, 1998). There are many advantages
for researchers to choose sequential analyses over a conven-
tional fixed-sample testing method (see Lakens, 2014). One
major advantage is that sequential analyses can greatly help
researchers to run sufficiently powered studies without running
an inefficiently large number of participants. Determining a
fixed sample for a high-powered study is not easy and often
faces much uncertainty. If the determined sample size is too
small, the study has the risk of being underpowered and the
obtained effect size is often inaccurate. On the other hand,
if the sample size is much bigger than actually needed, it is
a waste of time, resources, and energy. Sequential analyses
can be used for testing larger samples and at the same time
allow for earlier termination of data collection. This increases
the statistical power of the study and also prevents researchers
from wasting participants. Moreover, given the adjusted lower
alpha level, if data collection is stopped earlier with a relatively
small sample size, the estimated effect size is still more reliable
than a traditional small-scale study (Lakens, 2014, p. 703).
Experiment 1
Experiment 1 was designed to extend the findings reported
in Liao etal. (2021). Based on their findings, we hypoth-
esized the main effects of both the actor’s goal and the inter-
locutor’s status in this experiment. Except that we replaced
the scenarios that contained a man and a bike repair shop
with a more distinct version (see detailed clarification in the
Materials section and in the preregistration: https:// osf. io/
7c5zh/? view_ only= 54cdb bb89c fb4f5 8a952 edf8b d7331 ab),
the design, the data collection plan, and the data analysis
plan were all kept the same as those of the second experi-
ment in Liao etal. (2021). As in Liao etal. (2021), we also
used the simple present in Experiment 1 for all the sentence
stimuli (e.g., he walks (?) the trash bin). The whole experi-
ment was in English, including the instructions and the sen-
tence stimuli.
Memory & Cognition
1 3
Method
Participants Frick’s COAST (Frick, 1998) method was
adopted for data collection and for conducting sequential
analyses. Specifically, we recruited participants in batches of
160 participants (i.e., the minimum number of participants
to be tested; 80 per Intention and 80 per Interlocutor). We
predicted the main effects of Intention (the actor’s goal) and
Interlocutor (the interlocutor’s status). If p < .01 or p > .36
for both the main effects we predicted, data collection would
be terminated. If p was within these boundaries for any one
of the two main effects predicted, we would test another
160 participants. Data collection would be terminated if the
number of participants reached 480, regardless of the p val-
ues at that time. We recruited 480 participants (315 males,
164 females, one other; mean age 34.77 years old, range:
20-74 years old) eventually. All participants reported their
native language as English. Participants were recruited via
Mechanical Turk. The experiment took around 1 to 2 min-
utes per participant and each participant was paid $0.50 as
a reward.
Materials The experiment was programmed using the Qual-
trics Survey Software. As in Liao etal. (2021), we used
two different scenarios (one was with a person and a bike
repair shop and the other one was with a person and a trash
bin). For each scenario, there were two versions. In the first
scenario, the person either carried a broken bike or not; in
the second scenario, there was a person who either carried a
trash bag or not. Therefore, there were in total four scenarios
as the experimental stimuli (see Appendix). The trash bin
scenarios were exactly the same as those used in Liao etal.
(2021). We replaced the bike scenarios in Liao etal. (2021)
with their more distinct versions (see an example of the
ones used in their study and its replacement that was used
in the current study in Figs.1 and 2, respectively). We did so
because we wanted to have a homogeneous layout for both
the bike repair shop and the trash bin scenarios, for example,
no background in the picture of the person. Moreover, we
thought that if there was no background in the picture of the
person, it would be easier for participants to combine the
two pictures—for instance, the person and the bike repair
shop—into one holistic scenario. The bike repair shop was
also replaced with one with signs on it (e.g., repairs, rental)
to ensure that participants knew it was a bike repair shop.
Below each picture, a sentence was shown (e.g., he walks (?)
the bike repair shop) and a choice between to and towards
was shown below the sentence (see Appendix).
Design and procedure Sixteen cells were designed (4 Sce-
nario [Intention] × 2 Interlocutor × 2 OptionOrder) and
each participant was randomly assigned to only one cell.
We manipulated the instructions as either “You are describ-
ing a scenario to a police officer as a witness” or “You are
describing a scenario to a friend” (Interlocutor). Progres-
sive aspect was used in the instructions because we wanted
the participants to imagine their interlocutor as vividly as
possible while performing the description task. The choice
option order was counterbalanced (to at the right side of
towards or at the left side of towards). An informed con-
sent form was attached at the beginning of the survey. Par-
ticipants could choose whether to continue the survey or
to leave freely at any time. Then they answered questions
about their demographic information (i.e., gender and age)
and their mother tongue. They subsequently read the instruc-
tions of the experiment on the screen and chose between to
and towards to complete the sentence stimuli, based on the
scenario they were viewing.
Results anddiscussion
Confirmatory analyses A binomial logistic regression model
that included the main effect of Intention and the main effect
of Interlocutor was conducted in R (R Core Team, 2016)
using the glm function implemented in the package lme4
(Bates etal., 2015; the formula used in R was preposition ~
intention + interlocutor). Both factors were dummy coded.
No interaction effect was included in the model. The depend-
ent variable was the directional preposition choice, which
was a binary outcome. The choice of the directional prepo-
sition to was coded as “0” and the choice of the directional
preposition towards was coded as “1” in R (in alphabetic
order). In the first batch of collected data (N = 160), we
found a significant main effect of Intention (β = −0.995,
SE = 0.34, z = −2.919, p = .004, odds ratio: 0.370, 95% CI
[0.19, 0.72]). We did not find a significant main effect of
Fig. 1 An example of the bike scenarios used in Liao etal. (2021)
Memory & Cognition
1 3
Interlocutor but the p value was within the boundary from
.01 to .36 (β = 0.676, SE = 0.34, z = 1.989, p = .047, odds
ratio: 1.965, 95% CI [1.02, 3.86]).
Given that the p value found for the effect of Interlocutor
was within the boundary from .01 to .36, we continued data
collection. After the second round of data collection (N =
320), we performed the same analysis. We found that both
the main effect of Intention and the main effect of Interlocu-
tor were not significant (Intention β = −0.482, SE = 0.23, z
= −2.071, p = .038, odds ratio: 0.62, 95% CI [0.39, 0.97];
Interlocutor β = 0.534, SE = 0.23, z = 2.296, p = .022, odds
ratio: 1.71, 95% CI [1.08, 2.70]). The p values for both fac-
tors were within the boundary from .01 to .36. Therefore, we
continued data collection until we reached 480 participants.
Based on our preregistration, this was our last round of data
collection.
We did the same analysis again for the last data batch
(N = 480). We did not find a significant effect of Intention
(β = −0.323, SE = 0.19, z = −1.700, p =.089, odds ratio:
0.72, 95% CI [0.50, 1.05]). The p value of the main effect of
Interlocutor, however, was smaller than .01 (β = 0.673, SE
= 0.19, z = 3.538, p < .001, odds ratio: 1.96, 95% CI [1.35,
2.85]): based on the standards of the sequential analysis we
pre-registered, it was considered a significant effect. Thus,
we found support for the hypothesis that addressee status
affects preposition choice but not for the hypothesis that pro-
tagonist intention does the same. Figure3 shows the mean
proportions of the selection of towards under the conditions
of Intention and Interlocutor in Experiment 1.
Exploratory analyses The interaction effect between Inten-
tion and Interlocutor was not considered when forming our
hypotheses in the confirmatory analyses. It was possible
that different interlocutors might affect the sensitivity to
the actor’s goal. However, we were not sure in what direc-
tion Interlocutor might affect the sensitivity to the two lev-
els of Intention (i.e., a clear goal vs. an unclear goal). One
possibility was that talking to a police officer might lower
participants’ willingness to commit themselves to an event
endpoint no matter whether the actor’s goal was clear or
unclear, compared with when talking to a friend. Another
possibility was that talking to a police officer would only
lower the certainty about an event endpoint when the actor’s
goal was not clear but would not make much difference when
the actor’s goal was clear, compared with when talking to a
friend. In such circumstances, we would like to explore these
possibilities in the exploratory analyses.
Apart from the interaction between Intention and Inter-
locutor, we also decided to add the scenario type as a fixed
effect in the exploratory analyses (including its main effect
and its interaction effect with Intention and with Interlocu-
tor). Scenario type was supposed to be taken as a random
effect in the confirmatory analyses. However, the inclusion
of it as a random effect in the confirmatory analyses brought
overfitted warnings. Moreover, the scenario type had only
two levels (i.e., trash bin vs. bike repair shop). When a ran-
dom factor has too few levels (normally fewer than five lev-
els; Bolker, 2015), the estimated variance can be very impre-
cise and unstable, especially when a singular fit warning
occurs (Oberpriller etal., 2021). Under such circumstances,
researchers recommend fitting such a random effect in the
statistical model as a fixed effect (Bolker, 2015; Crawley,
2002; Gelman, 2005; Gelman & Hill, 2007).
Fig. 2 An example of the bike scenarios used in the current study
Fig. 3 Mean proportions of the selection of towards under the condi-
tions of Intention and Interlocutor in Experiment 1. Error bars pre-
sent95% confidence intervals for the mean
Memory & Cognition
1 3
Moreover, we were interested in whether there was a main
effect of the order of the two prepositions as an option. We
counterbalanced this factor in our experimental design to
avoid a possible primacy or recency bias in the participants’
answers. That is, participants might prefer to choose the first
option they encountered (a primacy bias) or on the contrary,
participants might be more likely to choose the latest option
they saw (a recency bias). In the explanatory analyses, we
were interested in whether such biases indeed existed in our
experiments or not.
Therefore, we built a binomial logistic regression
model that included the main effects of Intention, Inter-
locutor, Option Order, Scenario, the interaction between
Intention and Interlocutor, the interaction between Sce-
nario and Intention, and the interaction between Scenario
and Interlocutor (the formula used in R was preposition ~
intention × interlocutor + intention × scenario + inter-
locutor × scenario + option order). All the factors were
sum coded except for the factor Option Order (dummy
coded), for we were only interested in the main effect
of this factor. The dependent variable was the choice
between the two directional prepositions: to and towards.
The choice of to was coded as “0” and the choice of
towards was coded as “1.”
The main effect of Intention was still not significant (β =
0.164, SE = 0.10, z = 1.666, p =.096, odds ratio: 1.18, 95%
CI [0.97, 1.43]). The significant main effect of Interlocutor
(β = −0.374, SE = 0.10, z = −3.759, p <.001, odds ratio:
0.69, 95% CI [0.57, 0.84]) remained in this model. No inter-
action effect was found between Intention and Interlocutor
(β = 0.106, SE = 0.10, z = 1.082, p = .28, odds ratio: 1.11,
95% CI [0.92, 1.35]). We found a significant main effect
of Scenario (β = −0.377, SE = 0.10, z = −3.786, p <.001,
odds ratio: 0.69, 95% CI [0.56, 0.83]). A significant interac-
tion effect between Scenario and Interlocutor (β = 0.273,
SE = 0.10, z = 2.748, p =.006, odds ratio: 1.31, 95% CI
[1.08, 1.60]) was also detected. Specifically, towards was
used more often when the addressee was a police officer than
when it was a friend, only for the scenarios of trash bins. No
interaction effect was found between Scenario and Intention
(β = −0.064, SE = 0.10, z = -0.647, p =.52, odds ratio: 0.94,
95% CI [0.77, 1.14]). There was no significant main effect
of Option Order (β = 0.151, SE = 0.19, z = 0.776, p = .438,
odds ratio: 1.16, 95% CI [0.80, 1.70]).
In sum, we predicted the main effects of Intention and of
Interlocutor on the use of to and towards in Experiment 1. In
the confirmatory analyses, we did find a main effect of Inter-
locutor (p < .001, odds ratio: 1.96), but not a main effect of
Intention (p = .089, odds ratio: 0.72; this was also confirmed
in the explanatory analyses). Moreover, the effect sizes of
both factors (indicated by their odds ratios: Intention vs.
Interlocutor: 1.39 vs. 1.96) were lower than those found in
Liao etal. (2021) (Intention vs. Interlocutor: 1.72 vs. 3.79).
According to our previous discussions (see the section The
simple present and progressive aspect in English), a possible
reason is that the use of the English simple present might
have weakened the salience of both factors, Intention and
Interlocutor, in Experiment 1. The use of the English pro-
gressive aspect might help to increase the salience of both
factors and hence also strengthen their effects on preposition
choice. Therefore, in Experiment 2, we replaced the English
simple present with the English progressive aspect for all the
sentence stimuli to examine this possibility.
Experiment 2
Experiment 2 was identical to Experiment 1, except that we
replaced the English simple present used in the sentence
stimuli (e.g., he walks (?) the trash bin) with the English
progressive aspect (e.g., he is walking (?) the trash bin). We
formed alternative hypotheses for Experiment 2 (see The
Current Study section).
Method
Participants As in Experiment 1, we adopted Frick’s
COAST method for data collection and for conducting
sequential analyses. We also recruited participants in
batches of 160 participants. If p < .01 or p > .36 for both
factors (Intention and Interlocutor), data collection would
be terminated. If p was within these boundaries for any
one of the two factors, we would test another 160 partici-
pants. Data collection would be terminated if the number
of participants reached 480, regardless of the p values at
that time. In the end, we ended data collection at our first
data batch (N = 160, 83 males, 73 females, four others;
mean age 33.675 years old, range: 17–74 years old), given
that the p values for both factors were below .01 when N
= 160. All participants were native English speakers and
were recruited via the Prolific platform. The experiment
took around 2 minutes per participant and each participant
received £0.35 as a reward.
Materials The same materials as in Experiment 1 were used,
except that the simple present used in Experiment 1 was
replaced with progressive aspect for all the sentence stimuli.
Design and procedure The design and procedure were
identical to Experiment 1, except that participants were not
asked to fill in information about their mother tongue. This
is because we already excluded people whose first language
was not English through the Prolific platform, and it was
not allowed to collect information about people’s linguistic
backgrounds on this platform.
Memory & Cognition
1 3
Results anddiscussion
Confirmatory analyses The same binomial logistic regres-
sion model that included the main effect of Intention and
the main effect of Interlocutor was conducted in R using
the glm function implemented in the package lme4 (Bates
etal., 2015; the formula used in R was preposition ~ inten-
tion + interlocutor). Both factors were dummy coded. No
interaction effect was included in the model. The dependent
variable was the directional preposition choice, which was
a binary outcome. The choice of to was coded as “0” and
the choice of towards was coded as “1” in R (in alphabetic
order). We found significant main effects of both Intention
(N = 160; β = −0.969, SE = 0.36, z = −2.711, p = .007,
odds ratio: 0.379, 95% CI [0.19, 0.76]) and Interlocutor (β
= 1.195, SE = 0.36, z = 3.322, p < .001, odds ratio: 3.31,
95% CI [1.66, 6.82]). Figure4 shows the mean proportions
of the selection of towards under the conditions of Intention
and Interlocutor in Experiment 2.
Exploratory analyses As in Experiment 1, we built the same
binomial logistic regression model that included the main
effects of Intention, Interlocutor, Option Order, Scenario,
the interaction between Intention and Interlocutor, the inter-
action between Scenario and Intention, and the interaction
between Scenario and Interlocutor (the formula used in R
was preposition ~ intention × interlocutor + intention× sce-
nario + interlocutor × scenario + option order). All the
factors were also sum coded except for the factor Option
Order (dummy coded), for we were only interested in the
main effect of this factor. The reasons why we included these
factors in the exploratory analyses were already provided in
the Exploratory analyses section in Experiment 1.
Both the main effects of Intention and Interlocutor
remained significant in this model (Intention β = 0.623, SE
= 0.21, z = 2.969, p = .003, odds ratio: 1.86, 95% CI [1.26,
2.92]; Interlocutor β = −0.732, SE = 0.21, z = −3.471, p
< .001, odds ratio: 0.48, 95% CI [0.31, 0.71]). The inter-
action between Intention and Interlocutor was found to be
marginally significant if we adopted the conventional rule of
determining a significant effect when p < .05 (β = −0.419,
SE = 0.21, z = −1.998, p = .046, odds ratio: 0.66, 95% CI
[0.42, 0.97]). Specifically, to was used less frequently when
the actor’s goal could not be clearly inferred from the sce-
nario, compared with when it could, particularly so when the
interlocutor was a police officer, compared with when the
interlocutor was a friend. The main effect of Scenario was
not significant (β = 0.089, SE = 0.20, z = 0.455, p = .649,
odds ratio: 1.09, 95% CI [0.75, 1.62]), and neither was its
interaction with Intention (β = 0.079, SE = 0.19, z = 0.411, p
= .681, odds ratio: 1.08, 95% CI [0.75, 1.59]) and with Inter-
locutor (β = −0.292, SE = 0.20, z = −1.501, p = .133, odds
ratio: 0.75, 95% CI [0.50, 1.09]). The main effect of Option
Order was also found insignificant (β = 0.255, SE = 0.36,
z = 0.713, p = .476, odds ratio: 1.29, 95% CI [0.64, 2.62]).
These findings support the second hypothesis formed in
Experiment 2. We found main effects of both Intention and
Interlocutor. Their effect sizes (indicated by the odds ratios:
Intention vs. Interlocutor: 2.64 vs. 3.31) were also larger
than those found in Experiment 1 (Intention vs. Interlocutor:
1.39 vs. 1.96; from the confirmatory analyses). Therefore,
we conclude that the use of the English progressive aspect
indeed leads people to pay more attention to event details
and to speech context, compared with when the English sim-
ple present is used.1
General discussion
In the current study, two experiments were conducted to
examine the effects of two non-linguistic factors, namely the
actor’s goal and the interlocutor’s social status, on motion
Fig. 4 Mean proportions of the selection of towards under the condi-
tions of Intention and Interlocutor in Experiment 2. Error bars pre-
sent95% confidence intervals for the mean
1 A reviewer mentioned the possibility of a direct effect of aspect
on preposition choice, which means a possibility of more towards
phrases in sentences with a progressive aspect compared with to
phrases. We excluded this possibility through corpus search in Sketch
Engine (https:// www. sketc hengi ne. eu/). We first searched the num-
ber of hits for the phrases walking to, walking toward and walking
towards in the whole corpus provided in Sketch Engine. We then fil-
tered out the instances that had verbs at either the Right 1 or the Right
2 positions of the prepositions to, toward, or towards. We found that
the number of hits of walking to (41,955) was 1.6 times higher than
that of both walking toward and walking towards (in total 26,041).
Memory & Cognition
1 3
event endpoint description. Moreover, the effect of one lin-
guistic cue, grammatical aspect, on the sensitivity to the two
non-linguistic factors was also investigated. By examining
the choice between two Dutch directional prepositions (i.e.,
naar and richting), a study conducted by Liao etal. (2021)
demonstrates that both the actor’s goal and the interlocu-
tor’s status affect motion event endpoint description. Our
first goal here was to extend these findings by investigating
the English equivalents of the two Dutch prepositions—
namely, to and towards. Our second goal was to go beyond
their study by studying whether different grammatical aspect
(i.e., the English simple present and the English progressive
aspect) would affect the salience of the two non-linguistic
factors (i.e., Intention and Interlocutor) in the description
task and consequently also affect people’s motion event end-
point description.
In Experiment 1, we used the English simple present for
all the sentence stimuli (e.g., he walks to/towards the bike
repair shop). We predicted the same significant main effects
of both Intention and Interlocutor as in Liao etal. (2021).
We did find a significant effect of Interlocutor (odds ratio:
1.96). Its effect size, however, was almost twice as small as
that found in Liao etal. (2021) (odds ratio: 3.79). Moreover,
we did not find a significant effect of Intention in Experiment
1 (p = .089, odds ratio: 0.72).
We assume that the insignificant effect of Intention and
the smaller effect of Interlocutor (compared with the one
in Liao etal., 2021) should be attributed to the use of the
English simple present in Experiment 1. As previously men-
tioned, although the English simple present can be used to
express ongoing events, it does not emphasize the progres-
sive phase of the event. Instead, it tends to present the event
as a whole and defocuses the internal temporal structure of
the event. In our experiments, the actor’s goal was indicated
by an object the actor was or was not carrying (e.g., carrying
a trash bag or not), which was relevant to the progressive
stage of the actor’s action. For instance, if the actor was
carrying a trash bag, it was then clearer that the actor was
to go to the trash bin to dispose of the trash bag, than when
the actor was carrying nothing. However, when an event
was viewed as a unified whole (an external viewpoint pro-
vided by the use of the English simple present: walks), the
ongoing phase of an event, including the actor carrying or
not carrying an object, was then defocused. Consequently,
participants in Experiment 1 became less sensitive to the
factor Intention when performing the description task. In
Liao etal. (2021), the effect of Intention was significant
but not particularly strong (odds ratio: 1.72). Hence, it is
reasonable that this effect was absent in Experiment 1 in the
current study.
The use of the English simple present also led to a
decreased sensitivity to the speech context. As we have
discussed previously, the use of the English simple present
imbues an event with a more predictable and more pre-
planned sense, than when the English progressive aspect is
used. This is because the English simple present does not
emphasize the progression of an event and what is exactly
happening at the moment of speech, but instead focuses on a
more complete and holistic presentation of the event. When
an event is more predictable, the speech context could then
be comprehended as less important, than when an event is
presented as less predictable. This, however, does not neces-
sarily cause the disappearance of the effect of speech context
if its effect is strong enough. The effect size of Interlocu-
tor was indeed fairly large in Liao etal. (2021). Therefore,
we found that the effect of Interlocutor was also present in
Experiment 1 but was smaller than the effect found in Liao
etal. (2021).
In Experiment 2, we replaced the English simple pre-
sent with the English progressive aspect for all the sentence
stimuli, and we found the main effects of both Intention and
Interlocutor on the use of to and towards. Moreover, the
effect sizes of both factors found in Experiment 2 were larger
than those found in Experiment 1. These findings support
our second hypothesis formed in Experiment 2. The Eng-
lish progressive aspect indeed brings about a more careful
reading of both the actor’s goal and the interlocutor’s status
during event comprehension, compared with the English
simple present.
Therefore, an important conclusion we can draw based
on the results of these experiments is that the effects of the
actor’s goal and the interlocutor’s status on motion event
description that were found in Liao etal. (2021) are indeed
stable, given that those effects were also detected among
English native speakers when to and towards were investi-
gated. Our study confirms the idea that during the process
of event description, knowing the actor’s goal is essential to
the identification of an event endpoint. This is not surpris-
ing, given that humans are intentional agents whose behav-
iors are normally goal directed (see also Zacks & Swallow,
2007). Moreover, a goal is set to be achieved. Where there
is a goal, there is an expected endpoint.
Our finding of the role of the actor’s goal in identifying
an event endpoint during event description is similar to what
Zacks has proposed about the role of the actor’s goal in event
segmentation (see Zacks, 2004). As put forward by Zacks
(2004), the actor’s goal is one of the defining features of the
“knowledge structures for events” (p. 980). It works as a cue
for detecting an event boundary in a top-down manner dur-
ing the process of ongoing-activity segmentation. Similarly,
we assume that how the actor’s goal affects event endpoint
description is also a sort of top-down processing.
Moreover, the actor’s goal is an internal feature. Most
of the time, it needs to be explicitly expressed or inferred
from the movements of the actor (Radvansky & Zacks, 2014;
Zacks, 2004). Our study demonstrates that people indeed
Memory & Cognition
1 3
make use of the information provided in the referential
scenarios, including the actor carrying or not carrying an
object, to get access to the intention of the actor for predict-
ing an event endpoint during event description. This is bot-
tom-up processing since the actor’s goal is inferred from the
sensory information presented in the referential scenarios.
This bottom-up processing is incorporated with subsequent
top-down processing (i.e., inferring an event endpoint from
the actor’s goal) during the whole event description phase.
Our study also confirms that speech context, such as
the social distance between the speaker and the interlocu-
tor, plays an important role in event endpoint description.
Previous studies have demonstrated that people adapt their
speech behavior depending on the formality of the speech
context. They found that people use nouns, prepositions, and
adjectives more frequently in a more formal speech context,
compared with in a less formal speech context (e.g., Hey-
lighen & Dewaele, 2002; Koppen etal., 2019). Our study
focuses on the social status of the interlocutor, which is one
important parameter that determines the formality of the
speech context. We found that even the choice between spe-
cific prepositions differs depending on the social distance
between the speaker and the interlocutor. Specifically, peo-
ple use a more specific preposition (e.g., towards) to define
an event more often if they talk to a formal interlocutor, such
as a police officer, compared with if they talk to an informal
interlocutor, such as a friend.
Importantly, the effect of Interlocutor was found to be
larger than the effect of Intention on motion event endpoint
description. There are two possible reasons for this. First,
Interlocutor is a macro feature about the context that has
general importance for a speaker during an event description
task. Therefore, when information about the speech context
is clarified, the speaker is ready to take this information on
board and make use of it immediately. However, Intention
is a specific event component. Speakers usually do not pre-
suppose that they need this information when describing an
event. Therefore, during the description tasks, participants
should pay less attention to protagonist intention than to
interlocutor status. Second, during the description task, the
interlocutor information was expressed explicitly through
linguistic expressions, whereas the intention information had
to be inferred from the picture. The former should be more
straightforward and easier to process, compared with the
latter. These factors might have cumulative effects, which
explains why the effect of Interlocutor was found to be larger
than the effect of Intention.
Hence, our study highlights the urgency of considering
contextual factors in event description studies, which are
currently understudied in this field. The role of the interlocu-
tor’s social status in event endpoint description also sheds
light on eyewitness testimony studies. For example, police
officers should be aware that their identity might create an
unconscious effect on how their witnesses describe a crime.
Witnesses might become more careful and more conserva-
tive with their language use than they normally do, which
is not always helpful for solving cases, especially if they do
not dare to commit themselves to any certain statements.
Furthermore, our study demonstrates that grammatical
aspect influences people’s mental representations of event
details and even people’s sensitivity to speech context. This
is an important message for both event comprehension and
event production studies, given that even a small difference
in the use of grammatical aspect (i.e., the simple present vs
progressive aspect) can lead to different representations of
the depicted event. For event production studies, it is, hence,
important to take into account any possible effects that might
come from the verb forms used in the instructions or in any
other experimental materials.
Limitations ofthecurrent study andfuture research
For both experiments in the current study, we used only two
types of scenarios (i.e., the trash bin scenarios and the bike
shop scenarios). This is mainly because for our study, it was
very important to ensure that participants did not know the
goal of the experiments. Their preposition choice should
be based on their linguistic intuition without any awareness
of our manipulations. Otherwise, their responses would
become useless. To avoid participants from knowing the
goal of our experiments, we adopted a between-subjects
design. In this design, we assigned one participant only one
cell out of the total 16 cells (2 Scenario× 2 Intention× 2
Interlocutor× 2 OptionOrder). Each cell was assigned to 10
participants for the first data batch, based on our preregis-
tration plan. If we had added one more scenario, we would
have to create eight more cells (3 Scenario× 2 Intention×
2 Interlocutor× 2 OptionOrder: 24 cells). Consequently, we
would have needed to recruit at least 80 more participants,
which we consider a waste of resources and was not worth-
while to do so.
However, we are aware of the generalizability issue due
to the limited number of scenarios used in the current study.
We are positive that our findings can be generalized to other
scenarios. One main reason is that the two chosen types of
scenarios represent two common motion events in daily
life. They are not special regarding the nature of the motion
events they represent but they still represent two unrelated
motion events. Given that the effects of the protagonist
intention and the interlocutor’s status have already been gen-
eralized across these two common but unrelated scenarios in
two different languages, we are confident that these effects
can be generalized to other types of scenarios. Moreover,
the concepts of the two studied factors (i.e., Intention and
Interlocutor) and the use of grammatical aspect are not lim-
ited to the characteristics of the two chosen scenarios. It is,
Memory & Cognition
1 3
therefore, feasible to consider other scenarios to manipulate
these factors.
What should be noted is that possible differences between
scenarios might affect the strength of the effects of these fac-
tors on endpoint conceptualization. As we can infer from the
explanatory analyses of our Experiment 1, when the sensi-
tivity to the interlocutor’s status was weakened by the use of
the English simple present, its effect was only detected in the
trash bin scenarios, not in the bike shop scenarios. This indi-
cates a possible difference between the trash bin scenarios
and the bike shop scenarios in relation to the effect of Inter-
locutor, even though this difference eventually disappeared
in Experiment 2 when the English progressive aspect was
used. Hence, we do not formulate strong claims here regard-
ing the specific scenarios that our findings can generalize to
but leave that for future research. When designing scenarios
for future research, researchers are recommended to perform
a norming study to have a clearer idea of how the scenarios
differ in the degree of certainty that the referred location is
the destination of the moving entity. Future research should
also explore more types of motion events and that may even
go beyond the scope of motion events. If possible, a more
naturalistic depiction of events, for instance, using videos of
events, is also recommended.
Another limitation of the current study is that we did not
take a possible interaction effect between the actor’s goal
and the interlocutor’s status into account in the preregistered
analyses. As shown in the explanatory analyses of Experi-
ment 2, however, there was a marginally significant interac-
tion between the two factors. Specifically, when talking to
a police officer, participants were especially less willing to
commit themselves to an event endpoint when the actor’s
goal was unclear (compared with when the actor’s goal was
unclear), compared with when talking to a friend. However,
the effect size of this interaction was relatively small (odds
ratio: 1.52). Moreover, detecting a reliable interaction effect
often requires a larger sample size than detecting a main
effect. Given that we did not plan our sample size for find-
ing an interaction, we are uncertain whether the detected
marginally significant interaction between the two fac-
tors is a true effect or is just a positive false. Theoretically
speaking, it is indeed possible that people show different
sensitivity to the actor’s goal depending on to whom they
are talking. Therefore, future research should consider this
interaction effect when conducting event endpoint concep-
tualization studies.
Conclusion
The current study extends the findings reported by Liao etal.
(2021). Our findings support the idea that both the actor’s
goal and the interlocutor’s status affect motion event end-
point description, even when speakers with a different native
language were tested. Our study contributes to motion event
description studies by providing evidence that the absence/
presence of a clear intention of the actor is an important
factor in event endpoint description. Moreover, our study
highlights the importance of considering contextual factors,
such as the social status of the interlocutor, in event descrip-
tion studies.
Importantly, our study provides further evidence that
grammatical aspect (i.e., the English simple present and
the English progressive aspect) also affects event endpoint
description, via their influence on event details representa-
tion and the perception of speech context. Unlike most event
representation studies that focus on the difference between
the English progressive aspect and the English perfective
aspect, the current study provides a novel perspective in
event representation studies—that is, including the contrast
between the English simple present and the English progres-
sive aspect. Many linguists have theoretically analyzed their
difference in representing eventualities. However, to our
knowledge, no studies have experimentally tested this dif-
ference. The current study provides experimental evidence
for their different role in event representation. A take-home
message here is that subtle differences in language use, such
as the use of different verb forms, can result in a substantial
change in meaning.
Memory & Cognition
1 3
Appendix
Stimuli used inExperiment 1
Memory & Cognition
1 3
Open practices statement The data of both Experiment 1 and Experi-
ment 2 are available on Open Science Framework (https:// osf. io/
hy3f9/? view_ only= 2a05d 791ed 0d42c 5ace6 e5417 9d534 3b). Hypoth-
eses, materials, designs, exclusion criteria, data collection plans, and
data analysis plans of all experiments were preregistered on Open Sci-
ence Framework in advance of data collection and analysis (see Experi-
ment 1: https:// osf. io/ 7c5zh/? view_ only= 54cdb bb89c fb4f5 8a952 edf8b
d7331 ab; Experiment 2: https:// osf. io/ hwupz/? view_ only= 2e0fe a9fbe
c74f0 1aa1d efb41 15cc2 75).
Declarations
Ethics statement This study was approved by the Ethics Review Com-
mittee of the Department of Psychology, Education, and Child Studies
at the Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attri-
bution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adapta-
tion, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long
as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source,
provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes
were made. The images or other third party material in this article are
included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated
otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in
the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not
permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will
need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a
copy of this licence, visit http:// creat iveco mmons. org/ licen ses/ by/4. 0/.
References
Anderson, S. E., Matlock, T., Fausey, C. M., & Spivey, M. J. (2008).
On the path to understanding on-line processing of grammatical
aspect. Proceedings of the 30th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive
Science Society (pp. 2253–2258). Cognitive Science Society.
Baldwin, D. A., Baird, J. A., Saylor, M. M., & Clark, M. A. (2001).
Infants parse dynamic action. Child Development, 72(3), 708–717.
https:// doi. org/ 10. 1111/ 1467- 8624. 00310
Bates, D., Mächler, M., Bolker, B., & Walker, S. (2015). Fitting linear
mixed-effects models using lme4. Journal of Statistical Software,
67(1), 1–48. https:// doi. org/ 10. 18637/ jss. v067. i01
Bolker, B. M. (2015). Linear and generalized linear mixed models.
In G. A. Fox, S. Negrete-Yankelevich, & V. J. Sosa (Eds.), Eco-
logical statistics: Contemporary theory and application (pp.
309–333). Oxford University Press.
Cowper, E. (1998). The simple present tense in English: a unified treat-
ment. Studia Linguistica, 52(1), 1–18. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1111/
1467- 9582. 00027
Crawley, M. J. (2002). Statistical computing: an introduction to data
analysis using S-PLUS. John Wiley & Sons.
Ferretti, T. R., Kutas, M., & McRae, K. (2007). Verb aspect and the
activation of event knowledge. Journal of Experimental Psychol-
ogy: Learning Memory and Cognition, 33(1), 182–196. https://
doi. org/ 10. 1037/ 0278- 7393. 33.1. 182
Flecken, M. (2011). What native speaker judgments tell us about the
grammaticalization of a progressive aspectual marker in Dutch.
Linguistics, 49(3), 479–524. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1515/ ling. 2011. 015
Frick, R. W. (1998). A better stopping rule for conventional statistical
tests. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers,
30(4), 690–697. https:// doi. org/ 10. 3758/ BF032 09488
Gelman, A. (2005). Analysis of variance: why it is more important than
ever. The Annals of Statistics, 33(1), 1–31.
Gelman, A., & Hill, J. (2007). Data analysis using regression and mul-
tilevel/hierarchical models. Cambridge University Press.
Giles, H., & Powesland, P. F. (1975). Speech style and social evalua-
tion. Academic Press.
Giles, H., & Smith, P. (1979). Accommodation theory: Optimal levels
of convergence. In H. Giles & R. St. Clair (Eds.), Language and
social psychology (pp. 45–65). Basil Blackwell.
Heylighen, F., & Dewaele, J.-M. (2002). Variation in the contextuality
of language: An empirical measure. Foundations of Science, 7(3),
293–340. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1023/A: 10196 61126 744
Johanson, M., Selimis, S., & Papafragou, A. (2019). The source-goal
asymmetry in spatial language: Language-general vs. language-
specific aspects. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 34(7),
826–840. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1080/ 23273 798. 2019. 15843 23
Koppen, K., Ernestus, M., & van Mulken, M. (2019). The influence of
social distance on speech behavior: Formality variation in casual
speech. Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory, 15(1), 139–
165. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1515/ cllt- 2016- 0056
Krifka, M. (1998). The origins of telicity. In S. Rothstein (Ed.), Events
and grammar (pp. 197–235). Kluwer Academic Publishers.
https:// doi. org/ 10. 1007/ 978- 94- 011- 3969-4_9
Lakens, D. (2014). Performing high-powered studies efficiently with
sequential analyses. European Journal of Social Psychology,
44(7), 701–710. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1002/ ejsp. 2023
Lakusta, L., & Carey, S. (2015). Twelve-month-old infants’ encoding of
goal and source paths in agentive and non-agentive motion events.
Language Learning and Development: The Official Journal of the
Society for Language Development, 11(2), 152–157. https:// doi.
org/ 10. 1080/ 15475 441. 2014. 896168
Lakusta, L., & Landau, B. (2005). Starting at the end: the importance
of goals in spatial language. Cognition, 96(1), 1–33. https:// doi.
org/ 10. 1016/j. cogni tion. 2004. 03. 009
Lakusta, L., & Landau, B. (2012). Language and memory for motion
events: origins of the asymmetry between source and goal paths.
Cognitive Science, 36(3), 517–544. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1111/j.
1551- 6709. 2011. 01220.x
Levelt, W. J. M. (1989). Speaking: from intention to articulation. MIT
Press.
Levelt, W. J. M. (1999). Producing spoken language: A blueprint of
the speaker. In C. M. Brown & I. P. Hagoort (Eds.), The neu-
rocognition of language (pp. 83–122). Oxford University
Press.Retrieved August 10, 2021, fromhttp:// hdl. handle. net/
11858/ 00- 001M- 0000- 0013- 44B7-4
Liao, Y., Flecken, M., Dijkstra, K., & Zwaan, R. A. (2020). Going
places in Dutch and mandarin Chinese: Conceptualising the path
of motion cross-linguistically. Language, Cognition and Neuro-
science, 35(4), 498–520. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1080/ 23273 798. 2019.
16764 55
Liao, Y., Dijkstra, K., & Zwaan, R. A. (2021). Directional prepositions
and event endpoint conceptualization: A study of naar and richting
in Dutch. Language and Cognition, 13(2), 161–190. https:// doi.
org/ 10. 1017/ langc og. 2020. 31
Madden, C. J., & Zwaan, R. A. (2003). How does verb aspect constrain
event representations? Memory & Cognition, 31(5), 663–672.
https:// doi. org/ 10. 3758/ BF031 96106
Madden-Lombardi, C., Dominey, P. F., & Ventre-Dominey, J. (2017).
Grammatical verb aspect and event roles in sentence processing.
PLOS ONE, 12(12), Article e0189919. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1371/
journ al. pone. 01899 19
Matlock, T. (2011). The conceptual motivation of aspect. In K.-U. Pan-
ther & G. Radden (Eds.), Motivation in grammar and the lexicon
(pp. 133–147). John Benjamins. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1075/ hcp. 27.
09mat
Oberpriller, J., de Souza Leite, M., & Pichler, M. (2021). Fixed or
random? On the reliability of mixed-effects models for a small
Memory & Cognition
1 3
number of levels in grouping variables. Advance online publica-
tion. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1101/ 2021. 05. 03. 442487
Papafragou, A. (2010). Source-goal asymmetries in motion representa-
tion: Implications for language production and comprehension.
Cognitive Science, 34(6), 1064–1092. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1111/j.
1551- 6709. 2010. 01107.x
R Core Team. (2016). R: A language and environment for statistical
computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing.
Radvansky, G. A., & Zacks, J. M. (2014). Event cognition. Oxford
University Press.
Regier, T., & Zheng, M. (2007). Attention to endpoints: A cross-lin-
guistic constraint on spatial meaning. Cognitive Science, 31(4),
705–719. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1080/ 15326 90070 13999 54
Sherrill, A. M., Eerland, A., Zwaan, R. A., & Magliano, J. P. (2015).
Understanding how grammatical aspect influences legal judgment.
PLOS ONE, 10(10), e0141181. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1371/ journ al.
pone. 01411 81
von Stutterheim, C., Carroll, M., & Klein, W. (2009). New perspectives
in analyzing aspectual distinctions across languages. In W. Klein
& P. Li (Eds.), The expression of time (pp. 195–216). Mouton de
Gruyter.
Vraciu, A. (2015). The simple present and the expression of temporal-
ity in L1 English and L2 English oral narratives. In D. Ayoun
(Ed.), The acquisition of the present (pp. 289–334). John Benja-
mins. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1075/z. 196. 10vra
Williams, C. (2002). Non-progressive aspect in English in commen-
taries and demonstrations using the present tense. Journal of
Pragmatics, 34(9), 1235–1256. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1016/ S0378-
2166(01) 00052-2
Zacks, J. M. (2004). Using movement and intentions to understand
simple events. Cognitive Science, 28(6), 979–1008. https:// doi.
org/ 10. 1207/ s1551 6709c og2806_5
Zacks, J. M., & Swallow, K. M. (2007). Event segmentation. Current
Directions in Psychological Science, 16(2), 80–84. https :// doi. org/
10. 1111/j. 1467- 8721. 2007. 00480.x
Zwarts, J. (2005). Prepositional aspect and the algebra of paths. Lin-
guistics and Philosophy, 28(6), 739–779. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1007/
s10988- 005- 2466-y
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to
jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Preprint
Full-text available
Biological data are often intrinsically hierarchical. Due to their ability to account for such dependencies, mixed-effect models have become a common analysis technique in ecology and evolution. While many questions around their theoretical foundations and practical applications are solved, one fundamental question is still highly debated: When having a low number of levels should we model a grouping variable as a random or fixed effect? In such situation, the variance of the random effect is presumably underestimated, but whether this affects the statistical properties of the fixed effects is unclear. Here, we analyze the consequences of including a grouping variable as fixed or random effect and possible other modeling options (over and underspecified models) for data with small number of levels in the grouping variable (2 - 8). For all models, we calculated type I error rates, power and coverage. Moreover, we show the influence of possible study designs on these statistical properties. We found that mixed-effect models already for two groups correctly estimate variance for two groups. Moreover, model choice does not influence the statistical properties when there is no random slope in the data-generating process. However, if an ecological effect differs among groups, using a random slope and intercept model, and switching to a fixed-effect model only in case of a singular fit avoids overconfidence in the results. Additionally, power and type I error are strongly influenced by the number of and the difference between groups. We conclude that inferring the correct random effect structure is of high importance to get correct statistical properties. When in doubt, we recommend starting with the simpler model and using model diagnostics to identify missing components. When having identified the correct structure, we encourage to start with a mixed-effects model independent of the number of groups and only in case of a singular fit switch to a fixed-effect model. With these recommendations, we allow for more informative choices about study design and data analysis and thus make ecological inference with mixed-effects models more robust for low number of groups.
Article
Full-text available
Two Dutch directional prepositions (i.e., naar and richting) provide a useful paradigm to study endpoint conceptualization. Experiment 1 adopted a sentence comprehension task and confirmed the linguistic proposal that, when naar was used in motion event descriptions, participants were more certain that the reference object was the goal of the agent than when richting was used. Experiment 2 and Experiment 3 used this linguistic pair to test the effect of two factors (i.e., the actor’s goal and the interlocutor’s status) on endpoint conceptualization via language production tasks. We found significant effects of both factors. First, participants chose naar more often when there was an inference in the referential situation that the reference object was the actor’s goal than when there was no such inference. Second, participants chose richting more often when they were told to describe the referential scenario to a police officer than to a friend. Participants were more cautious with their statements and were less willing to commit themselves to stating the goal of the agent when talking to a police officer than to a friend. The results are discussed in relation to relevant linguistic theories and event theories.
Article
Full-text available
We study to what extent linguistic differences in grammatical aspect systems and verb lexicalisation patterns of Dutch and mandarin Chinese affect how speakers conceptualise the path of motion in motion events, using description and memory tasks. We hypothesised that speakers of the two languages would show different preferences towards the selection of endpoint-, trajectory- or location-information in Endpoint-oriented (not reached) events, whilst showing a similar bias towards encoding endpoints in Endpoint-reached events. Our findings show that (1) groups did not differ in endpoint encoding and memory for both event types; (2) Dutch speakers conceptualised Endpoint-oriented motion focusing on the trajectory, whereas Chinese speakers focused on the location of the moving entity. In addition, we report detailed linguistic patterns of how grammatical aspect, verb semantics and adjuncts containing path-information are combined in the two languages. Results are discussed in relation to typologies of motion expression and event cognition theory.
Article
Full-text available
Two experiments examine how grammatical verb aspect constrains our understanding of events. According to linguistic theory, an event described in the perfect aspect (John had opened the bottle) should evoke a mental representation of a finished event with focus on the resulting object, whereas an event described in the imperfective aspect (John was opening the bottle) should evoke a representation of the event as ongoing, including all stages of the event, and focusing all entities relevant to the ongoing action (instruments, objects, agents, locations, etc.). To test this idea, participants saw rebus sentences in the perfect and imperfective aspect, presented one word at a time, self-paced. In each sentence, the instrument and the recipient of the action were replaced by pictures (John was using/had used a *corkscrew* to open the *bottle* at the restaurant). Time to process the two images as well as speed and accuracy on sensibility judgments were measured. Although experimental sentences always made sense, half of the object and instrument pictures did not match the temporal constraints of the verb. For instance, in perfect sentences aspect-congruent trials presented an image of the corkscrew closed (no longer in-use) and the wine bottle fully open. The aspect-incongruent yet still sensible versions either replaced the corkscrew with an in-use corkscrew (open, in-hand) or the bottle image with a half-opened bottle. In this case, the participant would still respond “yes”, but with longer expected response times. A three-way interaction among Verb Aspect, Sentence Role, and Temporal Match on image processing times showed that participants were faster to process images that matched rather than mismatched the aspect of the verb, especially for resulting objects in perfect sentences. A second experiment replicated and extended the results to confirm that this was not due to the placement of the object in the sentence. These two experiments extend previous research, showing how verb aspect drives not only the temporal structure of event representation, but also the focus on specific roles of the event. More generally, the findings of visual match during online sentence-picture processing are consistent with theories of perceptual simulation.
Article
Prior research has demonstrated a linguistic asymmetry between the sources and goals of motion events, with goals being mentioned more frequently compared to sources in motion descriptions by both children and adults. Here we explore the potency and features of this asymmetry comparing linguistic production data from children and adults who speak typologically different languages (English vs. Greek). We show that the asymmetry is robust cross-linguistically and can therefore plausibly be considered a shared, potentially universal feature of spatial language. However, the Source-Goal asymmetry does not surface uniformly across different morphosyntactic devices (verbs vs. adpositions) used to encode motion across languages. Thus a shared bias in spatial language interacts with language-specific aspects of spatial encoding.
Article
An important dimension of linguistic variation is formality. This study investigates the role of social distance between interlocutors. Twenty-five native Dutch speakers retold eight short films to confederates, who acted either formally or informally. Speakers were familiarized with the informal confederates, whereas the formal confederates remained strangers. Results show that the two types of interlocutors elicited different versions of the same stories. Formal interlocutors (i.e. large social distance) elicited lower articulation rates, and more nouns and prepositions, both indicators of explicit information. Speakers addressing the informal interlocutors, to whom social distance was small, however, provided more explicit information with an involved character (i.e. adjectives with subjective meanings). They also used the word and more often as a gap filler or as a way to keep the floor. Furthermore, a small social distance elicited more laughter, interjections, first-person pronouns and direct speech, which are all indicators of involvement, empathy and subjectivity.