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Field-based Comparative Psycholinguistics

Goal: PI: Masatoshi Koizumi

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Masataka Yano
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Sentences with filler-gap dependency are more difficult to process than those without, as reflected by event-related brain potentials (ERPs) such as sustained left anterior negativity (SLAN). The cognitive processes underlying SLAN may support associating a filler with a temporally distant gap in syntactic representation. Alternatively, processing filler-gap dependencies in the absence of a supportive context involves additional discourse processing. The present study conducted an ERP experiment that manipulated syntactic complexity (subject–object–verb [SOV] and object–subject–verb [OSV]) and discourse (the supportive and non-supportive context) in Japanese. The result showed a SLAN in OSV relative to SOV in the non-supportive but not the supportive context, which suggests that the difficulty involved in processing OSV in Japanese is largely due to a pragmatic factor. The present study contributes to a better understanding of how the language-processing system builds long-distance dependency by interacting with the memory system. [Open Access]
Masatoshi Koizumi
added a research item
There are two major proposals regarding how to derive the VOS word order in the Mayan family. One is a right-specifier analysis, according to which specifiers of lexical categories are located to the right of the heads and the subject occupies a right-specifier. The other is a predicate fronting analysis, in which vP is preposed across the subject. Comparing two Mayan languages, Chol and Kaqchikel, this paper argues that Kaqchikel reaches VOS via a right-specifier route rather than a predicate fronting route, and suggests a possibility of extending the right-specifier analysis to Chol VOS sentences.* 1. Introduction Languages differ in the order in which the subject (S), the object (O) and the verb (V) are aligned. For example, in declarative sentences with a nominal subject and object, the unmarked or "basic" word order is SVO in English and SOV in Japanese, with the subject preceding the object. However, many Mayan languages exhibit the basic VOS word order with the subject following the object. There are two major proposals regarding how to derive the VOS order in the Mayan family. One is the right-specifier analysis by Aissen (1992), according to which specifiers of lexical categories are located to the right of the heads and the subject occupies a right-specifier. The other is the predicate fronting analysis by Coon (2010), in which vP is preposed across the subject. Comparing two Mayan languages, Chol and Kaqchikel, we argue that the right-specifier analysis is more suitable
Masatoshi Koizumi
added 4 research items
When bilingual speakers plan to speak in one of their languages, the other language remains active and exerts an influence on the chosen language. However, the factors that modulate this influence, and particularly the extent to which syntactic structures and word order need to be the same in both languages for this influence to occur, are not yet fully understood. In this study, we explore the role of free word order in bilinguals’ representation of their two languages by analyzing the connections of linguistic representations in Spanish–Kaqchikel early bilinguals, two languages that allow word order variation in transitive sentences. In Experiment 1, a structural priming experiment within Kaqchikel was conducted with voice and word order of prime as independent variables. Results showed priming of both structure and word order, independently from each other. In Experiment 2, cross-linguistic structural priming was used from Spanish to Kaqchikel. Results showed priming of voice, regardless of word order, but not priming of word order. Taken together, these results suggest that, in languages with greater flexibility in their basic word orders, structural selection and word order choice seem to be independent processes.
Syntactic properties such as word orders are a major factor determining the difficulty of a sentence. In SO-type languages where the subject (S) precedes the object (O) in canonical word order, there is clear evidence that the SO word order is preferred over the OS word order. We investigate to what extent this SO bias is maintained even in typologically diverse languages like Truku, an Austronesian language, in which the Verb-Object-Subject (VOS) word order is canonical and a syntactically basic structure, and SVO is the derived word order and a syntactically more complex structure. It is important to investigate word order preferences in Truku because such inquiries allow us to determine to what extent these widely observed processing preferences are grounded in properties of the linguistic system and/or somewhat more general human cognitive properties. The syntactic complexity account predicts that, in Truku, the derived SVO word order should be more costly, while the saliency account predicts that the word orders in which an agent precedes a theme is preferred. Our auditory comprehension experiment showed that the OS word order was preferred by native speakers of Truku. This indicates that the often-observed SO preference is not a universal feature of language. Furthermore, the lack of a clear indication of the agent-before-theme preference suggests a correlation between the voice property of a given language and the importance of the saliency factor.
The effects of syntactic and information structures on sentence processing load were investigated using two reading comprehension experiments in Japanese, a head-final SOV language. In the first experiment, we discovered the main effects of syntactic and information structures, as well as their interaction, showing that interaction of these two factors is not restricted to head-initial languages. The second experiment revealed that the interaction between syntactic structure and information structure occurs at the second NP (O of SOV and S of OSV), which, crucially, is a pre-head position, suggesting the incremental nature of the processing of both syntactic structure and information structure in head-final languages.
Masataka Yano
added a research item
In many languages with subject-before-object as a syntactically basic word order, transitive sentences in which the subject precedes the object have been reported to have a processing advantage over those in which the subject follows the object in sentence comprehension. Three sources can be considered to account for this advantage, namely, syntactic complexity (filler-gap dependency), conceptual accessibility (the order of thematic roles), and pragmatic requirement. To examine the effect of these factors on the processing of simple transitive sentences, the present study conducted two event-related potential experiments in Seediq, an Austronesian language spoken in Taiwan, by manipulating word orders (basic VOS vs. non-basic SVO), the order of thematic roles (actor vs. goal voice), and discourse factors (presence/absence of visual context). The results showed that, compared to VOS, SVO incurred a greater processing load (reflected by a P600) when there was no supportive context, irrespective of voice alternation; however, SVO did not incur a greater processing load when there was supportive context and the discourse requirement was satisfied. We interpreted these results as evidence that the processing difficulty of the non-basic word order in Seediq is associated with a discourse-level processing difficulty.
Masatoshi Koizumi
added a research item
In many languages with flexible word orders, canonical word order has a processing advantage over non-canonical word orders. This observation suggests that it is more costly for the parser to represent syntactically complex sentences because of filler-gap dependency formation. Alternatively, this phenomenon may relate to pragmatic factors because most previous studies have presented non-canonical word orders without felicitous context, which violates participants’ expectations regarding the information structure encoded by non-canonical word orders. The present study conducted an event-related potential experiment to examine the locus of the processing difficulty associated with non-canonical word orders in Japanese by manipulating word order (SOV vs. OSV) and the givenness of arguments. The non-canonical OSV sentence has been used felicitously when the O was mentioned in a prior discourse to make the discourse more coherent. The experiment’s results showed that OSV elicited a sustained left anterior negativity from O to S and a P600 effect at the S position compared to that of SOV in the infelicitous but not in the felicitous context. This result suggests that the processing difficulty of non-canonical word orders in Japanese is alleviated by discourse factors, such as the alignment of discourse-old and discourse-new NPs. [Open Access]
Masatoshi Koizumi
added a research item
The word order that is easiest to understand in a language generally coincides with the word order most frequently used in that language. In Kaqchikel, however, there is a discrepancy between the two: the syntactically basic VOS incurs the least cognitive load, whereas SVO is most frequently employed. This suggests that processing load is primarily determined by grammatical processes, whereas word order selection is affected by additional conceptual factors. Thus, the agent could be conceptually more salient than other elements even for Kaqchikel speakers. This hypothesis leads us to the following expectations: (1) utterance latency should be shorter for SVO sentences than for VOS sentences; (2) Kaqchikel speakers should pay more attention to agents than to other elements during sentence production; and (3) despite these, the cognitive load during sentence production should be higher for SVO than for VOS. A Kaqchikel sentence production experiment confirmed all three expectations.
Masatoshi Koizumi
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Masataka Yano
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PI: Masatoshi Koizumi
 
Masataka Yano
added 9 research items
Kaqchikel, one of the Mayan languages, is recognized as having the Verb-Object-Subject (VOS) order as its basic word order, similar to many of the other Mayan languages. In reality, however, the SVO word order is more frequently used than VOS, which comes in second by comparison. For this reason, Kaqchikel is often referred to as a language that is possibly shifting, or has already shifted, from a VOS to an SVO structure. We conducted a sentence processing experiment using Kaqchikel transitive sentences to verify whether the syntactically basic word order of Kaqchikel is VOS or SVO. The resulting data support a traditional analysis in which Kaqchikel’s syntactically basic word order is VOS, even for current native Kaqchikel speakers. That is, if indeed a part of the modern Kaqchikel community is currently shifting from VOS to SVO, this shift has not yet been reflected in the internal grammar of the majority of the native Kaqchikel speakers.
It is known that consonants can act as boundary markers when they are located at the left edge of a prosodic domain, helping listeners to parse incoming speech. To achieve maximum efficiency in marking out boundaries, those markers should be acoustically salient. In Element Theory, domain markers are represented by the elements |H| and |ʔ|. Being inherently voiceless, these elements stand apart from the other elements, which are spontaneously voiced. Most languages show a preference for incorporating |H| or |ʔ| into segmental structures which stand at the left edge of domains. This paper challenges the universality of this view by analysing data from Kaqchikel, a K’iche’an language with a bias for marking the right edge of domains rather than the left. The marker in question is intense/prolonged noise which, in Element Theory is represented by |H|. The |H| element is present in fortis fricatives and aspirates, and in Kaqchikel it regularly appears in segments at the right edge of prosodic domains where it serves as a domain boundary marker. Boundary marking in Kaqchikel is analysed here using a Precedence-free Phonology approach to melodic structure (Nasukawa 2016) in which the linear ordering of segments is determined by the hierarchical organization of melodic units (elements) within a unified melodic–prosodic structure.
The processing load of sentences with three different word orders (VOS, VSO, and SVO) in Kaqchikel Maya was investigated using a sentence-plausibility judgment task. The results showed that VOS sentences were processed faster than VSO and SVO sentences. This supports the traditional analysis in Mayan linguistics that the syntactically determined basic word order is VOS in Kaqchikel, as in many other Mayan languages. More importantly, the result revealed that the preference for subject-object word order in sentence comprehension observed in previous studies may not be universal; rather, the processing load in sentence comprehension is greatly affected by the syntactic nature of individual languages.*
Masataka Yano
added a research item
The processing load of sentences with different word orders in the Kaqchikel Mayan language was investigated using event-related potentials. We observed a P600 for subject-verb-object and verb-subject-object sentences as compared to verb-object-subject (VOS) sentences, suggesting that VOS order is easier to process than the other orders. This is consistent with the traditional interpretation in Mayan linguistics that the syntactically determined basic word order is VOS in Kaqchikel, as in many other Mayan languages. More importantly, the results revealed that the preference for subject-object word order in sentence comprehension observed in previous studies may not be universal; rather, processing load in sentence comprehension is greatly affected by the syntactic nature of individual languages.
Masataka Yano
added a research item
In many languages with flexible word order, transitive sentences in which the subject precedes the object have been reported to have a processing advantage during sentence comprehension compared with those in which the subject follows the object. This observation brings up the question of why this subject-before-object (SO) order should be preferred in sentence comprehension, together with the related empirical question of whether this preference is universal across all human languages. In the present ERP study, we address these two issues by examining the word order preference in Kaqchikel, a Mayan language spoken in Guatemala, in which the verb-object-subject (VOS) order is the syntactically basic word order. In the experiment, native speakers of Kaqchikel were auditorily presented four types of sentences (VOS, VSO, SVO, and OVS), followed by a picture that either matched or mismatched an event described in a preceding sentence, while their EEGs were recorded. The result of the ERP experiment showed that VSO elicited a larger positive component, called a P600 effect, in the comparison to the canonical word order, VOS in the third region (i.e., O of VSO versus S of VOS), in which the filler-gap dependency was supposed to be established in VSO sentences. Furthermore, SVO also exhibited a P600 effect compared to VOS in the third region, reflecting an increased syntactic processing cost. These results indicate that the syntactically basic word order, VOS, requires a lower amount of cognitive resources to process than other possible word orders in Kaqchikel. Based on these results, we argue that the SO preference in sentence comprehension reported in previous studies may not reflect a universal aspect of human languages; rather, processing preference may be language-specific to some extent, reflecting syntactic differences in individual languages.