[PS-1.61] Processing Tenses for the Living and the Dead: Evidence from Self-Paced Reading

Chen, S. Y. & Husband, E. M.

The University of Oxford

Individual-level predicates like 'be a pop singe' are required to hold over the lifetime of their subject. In tensed languages like English, an individual-level predicate in the past tense triggers an inference that the subject in question is dead (Kratzer, 1995; Magri 2009; Musan, 1997).

(1) John Doe was a pop singer. (past tense implies: John Doe is dead.)

This leads to a conflict in conjoined subjects when one element is living and the other is dead as neither past nor present tense is appropriate (Mittwoch, 2008).

(2) Michael Jackson (DEAD) and Adele (LIVING) ?#are/??#were pop singers.

An offline norming study confirmed that neither tense is appropriate for conjoined living/dead subjects. However, in self-paced reading, conjoined living/dead subjects showed immediate disruption on individual-level predicates only when in the past tense. This suggests that online measures are only sensitive to conflicting temporal information coming from the past tense inference. An ongoing study is investigating the same possible reading time disruption in Mandarin Chinese, a 'tenseless' language (Huang, 1998; Lin, 2006; Lin, 2010). We predict similar reading time disruption if abstract tense is still computed even though no overt tense is morphologically present.