The paper investigates the effect of alternating construals of temporal magnitudes on individuals’ reasoning about events that are explicitly embedded in time. Specifically, I analyse the meaning-making potential of “cumulative” and “fractional” construals, as in “30 minutes” and “half an hour”. Inspired by Cognitive Linguistics postulates, the hypothesis is that although these alternate constructions of time quantities are numerically equivalent, i.e. the objective time intervals designated are the same, they will differently prompt conceptualisation and reasoning about events they structure. This hypothesis is empirically tested with native and non-native speakers of English at four levels of time granularity, for seconds/minute, minutes/hour, weeks/month and months/year configurations.
The findings show that there is a consistent major effect indicating a semantic-conceptual asymmetry between cumulative and fractional construals for the seconds/minute level, and a weaker, though analogous, effect for the months/year level, with the fractional construals ‘magnifying’ the quantity. Critically, the effect is found to hold in the case of conceptualisers for whom English, in which stimuli were presented, was their L2 while English native speakers appear to be ‘immune’.
I discuss the potential motivation behind those patterns as well as the effect’s theoretical and practical implications. Finally, the findings are then related to a study on individuals’ intuitive predictions about meaning-making implications of alternating between cumulative and fractional construals of time.