Aspectual asymmetries in the mental representation of events: Role of lexical and grammatical aspect

Foong Ha Yap, Patrick Chun Kau Chu, Emily Sze Man Yiu, Stella Fay Wong, Stella Wing Man Kwan, Stephe N. Matthews, Hai Tan Li, Ping Li, Yasuhiro Shirai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Temporal information is important in the construction of situation models, and many languages make use of perfective and imperfective aspect markers to distinguish between completed situations (e.g., He made a cake) and ongoing situations (e.g., He is making a cake). Previous studies in which the effect of grammatical aspect has been examined have shown that perfective sentences are often processed more quickly than imperfective ones (e.g., Chan, Yap, Shirai, & Matthews, 2004; Madden & Zwaan, 2003; Yap et al., 2004; Yap et al., 2006). However, these studies used only accomplishment verbs (i.e., verbs with an inherent endpoint, such as bake a cake). The present study on the processing of Cantonese includes activity verbs (i.e., durative verbs with no inherent endpoint, such as play the piano), and the results indicate a strong interaction between lexical aspect (i.e., verb type) and grammatical aspect. That is, perfective sentences were processed more quickly with accomplishment verbs, consistent with previous findings, but imperfective sentences were processed more quickly with activity verbs. We suggest that these different aspectual asymmetries emerge as a result of the inherent associations between accomplishment verbs and the bounded features of perfective aspect and between activity verbs and the unbounded features of imperfective aspect. The sentence stimuli from this study may be downloaded from content/supplemental.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)587-595
Number of pages9
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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