[PS-1.56] Processing correlates of semantic complexity and markedness in languages with perfective/ imperfective opposition

Klimek-Jankowska, D. 1 , Czypionka, A. . 1, 2 & Blaszczak, J. . 1

1 University of Wroclaw
2 University of Konstanz

In the comprehension of English, processing is more costly for semantically complex than simple events. Very little is known about the processing of events in languages like Polish, which express event structure with overt perfective/imperfective morphology. Predictions are contradictory: On the one hand, perfective aspect increases event complexity; therefore, it should be harder to process than imperfective. On the other hand, imperfective aspect is semantically unmarked; therefore, it should require contextual clues to be interpretable, and be harder to process than perfective.
We present data from selfpaced-reading and eyetracking experiments on event comprehension in Polish sentences, contrasting different types of perfective and imperfective constructions. Selfpaced-reading times show longer reading times for imperfectives than perfectives, suggesting increased processing costs for imperfectives. Eyetracking data show longer first-pass reading times for perfectives, but more regressions into preverbal regions for imperfectives. We interpret this as indicating that with imperfectives, the parser has to search for contextual clues before computing their meaning and building a representation.
Our results suggest that semantic markedness, rather than semantic complexity, can explain the data for event processing in languages like Polish that mark aspect with a morphologically overt perfective/imperfective opposition.