Defying chronology: Crosslinguistic variation in reverse order reports

Norbert Vanek, Barbara Mertins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Much of how we sequence events in speech mirrors the order of their
natural occurrence. While event chains that conform to chronology may be easier to process, languages offer substantial freedom to manipulate temporal order. This article explores to what extent digressions from chronology are attributable to differences in grammatical aspect systems. We compared reverse order reports (RORs) in event descriptions elicited from native speakers of four languages, two with (Spanish, Modern Standard Arabic [MSA]) and two without grammatical aspect (German, Hungarian). In the Arabic group, all participants were highly competent MSA speakers from Palestine and Jordan. Standardized frequency counts showed significantly more RORs expressed by non-aspect groups than by aspect groups. Adherence to chronology changing as a function of contrast in grammatical aspect signal that languages without obligatory marking of ongoingness may provide more flexibility for event reordering. These findings bring novel insights about the dynamic interplay between language structure and temporal sequencing in the discourse stream.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-35
Number of pages35
Early online date19 Mar 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 19 Mar 2019

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