A Psycholinguistic Study of the Effect of Grammatical Aspect on the Interpretation of Ambiguous Subject Pronoun and Discourse Relations in Persian

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Department of Linguistics, Faculty of Literature, Alzahra University, Tehran, Iran

2 Department of Linguistics, Faculty of Literature, Alzahra University.Tehran. Iran


Grammatical aspect encodes temporal features of a situation mainly as completed (perfective) or incomplete (imperfective). In the present study, the effect of perfective vs. imperfective grammatical aspects on highlighting different participants of an event has been investigated by means of exploring the role of aspect on the interpretation of the ambiguous third person singular subject pronoun and discourse relations in Persian. To this end, 75 native speakers of Persian participated in a story completion task. After reading a simple transfer-of-possession sentence in each of the three aspects, namely perfective, imperfective, and progressive, they wrote natural continuations to the sentence. The second sentence, which was to be completed, began with the Persian third person singular pronoun /u:/ (“he/she”). The task sentences consisted of 18 critical and 20 filler sentences. Filler sentences were used to disguise the purpose of the task. The acquired data were analyzed using chi-square significance test in SPSS. Results showed that: First, Source/subject preference has outnumbered Goal preference in all the aspectual conditions. This finding was interpreted as confirming the first-mention bias in the interpretation of ambiguous pronouns in Persian. Second, Source vs Goal preference of pronouns is significantly affected by the grammatical aspect such that the perfective contexts produce less Source preference but more Goal preference when interpreting pronouns compred to the imperfective contexts. Third, there is a significant relationship between the aspect type and the type of the discourse relation connecting the two sentences. In fact, the perfective aspect seems to bias the second sentence in the direction of shifting its focus to the Goal of the first sentence and extending the effect of the first event. Also, the imperfective aspect seems to bias the second sentence in the direction of focusing on the Source of the first sentence and providing explanations and details to the first event. Overall, the findings are in line with the predictions of the first-mention bias and the event structure hypothesis in the interpretation of ambiguous pronouns.


Main Subjects

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Volume 12, Issue 1
July 2021
Pages 193-218
  • Receive Date: 29 November 2020
  • Revise Date: 18 July 2021
  • Accept Date: 20 September 2021
  • First Publish Date: 20 September 2021