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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.
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Language, Cognition and Neuroscience
ISSN: 2327-3798 (Print) 2327-3801 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/plcp21
Is the subject-before-object preference universal?
An event-related potential study in the Kaqchikel
Mayan language
Daichi Yasunaga, Masataka Yano, Yoshiho Yasugi & Masatoshi Koizumi
To cite this article: Daichi Yasunaga, Masataka Yano, Yoshiho Yasugi & Masatoshi Koizumi
(2015) Is the subject-before-object preference universal? An event-related potential study in
the Kaqchikel Mayan language, Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 30:9, 1209-1229, DOI:
10.1080/23273798.2015.1080372
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/23273798.2015.1080372
© 2015 The Author(s). Published by Taylor &
Francis
Published online: 23 Sep 2015.
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Is the subject-before-object preference universal? An event-related potential study in the
Kaqchikel Mayan language
Daichi Yasunaga
a
, Masataka Yano
b
, Yoshiho Yasugi
c
and Masatoshi Koizumi
d*
a
Faculty of Letters, Institute of Human and Social Sciences, Kanazawa University, Kakuma-machi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa 920-1192, Japan;
b
Graduate School of Humanities, Kyushu University, 6-19-1, Hakozaki, Higashi-ku, Fukuoka 812-8581, Japan;
c
Department of Cultural
Research, National Museum of Ethnology, 10-1 Senri Expo Park, Suita, Osaka 565-8511, Japan;
d
Department of Linguistics, Graduate
School of Arts and Letters, Tohoku University, 27-1, Kawauchi, Aoba-ku, Sendai, Miyagi 980-8576, Japan
(Received 30 June 2013; accepted 30 July 2015)
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.
Keywords: Basic word order; field-based psycholinguistics; Guatemala; processing load; syntactic complexity
1. Introduction
In many flexible word order languages, sentences with a
transitive verb (V) in which the subject (S) precedes the
object (O) (SO Word Order = SOV, SVO, VSO) are
reported to induce a lower processing load in comprehen-
sion than those in which the opposite occurs (OS Word
Order = OSV, OVS, VOS) (e.g. Bader & Meng, 1999;
Kaiser & Trueswell, 2004; Mazuka, Itoh, & Kondo,
2002; Sekerina, 1997; Tamaoka et al., 2005). The question
naturally arises as to why this should be the case, together
with the related question of whether this difference in pro-
cessing loads is universal, holding of all human languages.
In the psycholinguistic literature, a number of suggestions
have been made regarding the factors affecting word order
preference in sentence comprehension and production.
These may be divided into two broad theoretical positions
(Koizumi et al., 2014). One view, which we refer to as Indi-
vidual Grammar Theory, posits that grammatical factors
of individual languages such as syntactic complexity
primarily determine the word order preference in each
language, that is, a languages syntactically determined
basic word order is preferred to other possible word
orders (see Gibson, 2000; Hawkins, 2004; Marantz,
2005;OGrady, 1997; Pritchett & Whitman, 1995,
among others). In contrast, what may be called Universal
Cognition Theory hypothesises that word order preferences
are largely attributable to human cognitive features that are
universal (e.g. conceptual accessibility) so that SO word
order is preferred regardless of the basic word order of
any individual language (Bornkessel-Schlesewsky &
Schlesewsky, 2009a, 2009b; Kemmerer 2012; Tanaka,
Branigan, McLean, & Pickering, 2011, to mention just a
few.). Both these theories correctly predict that SO wo rd
order is preferred in languag es in which the subject pre-
cedes the object in the syntactically basic word order (SO
languages). Sentence-processing studies conducted so far
have all targeted SO languages, except for a few recent
ones such as Clemens et al. (2015) and Norcliffe,
Konopka, Brown, and Levinson (2015 ). Hence, it
remains unclear whether the preference for the SO word
order is a reflection of word order in individual languages
or a reflection of more universal human cognitive
features.
To determine which of these two theories is correct, it is
necessary to examine languages for which the two theories
offer different predictions, namely, languages in which the
object precedes the subject in the syntactically basic word
order (OS languag es). Here, we report the results of an
event-related potential (ERP) study of Kaqchikel, a
Mayan language spoken in Guatemala. Although, in
general, the word order of Kaqchikel is flexible, the syntac-
tically determined basic word order of Kaqchikel is VOS
© 2015 The Author(s). Published by Taylor & Francis
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeri vatives License (http://creativecommon s.org/licenses/
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*Corresponding author. Email: masatoshi.koizumi.a4@tohoku.ac.jp
Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 2015
Vol. 30, No. 9, 12091229, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/23273798.2015.1080372
Downloaded by [Tohoku University] at 18:41 18 October 2015
(García Matzar & Rodríguez Guaján, 1997, p. 333). We
found that the late positive ERP components (P600 or syn-
tactic ERP) were elicited by SVO and VSO sentences as
compared to VOS sentences, which indicates that the pro-
cessing load of VOS is lower than that of the two other
commonly used word orders. This suggests that the prefer-
ence for SO word order in sentence comprehension may
not be universal, but rather that syntactic features of indi-
vidual languages significantly influence sentence-proces-
sing load.
2. Previous cross-linguistic work: SO word order
preference
Evidence that SO word orders are easier to process than
OS word orders in flexible word order languages is abun-
dant in the psycholinguistic and neurolinguisti c literature.
For instance, a study has found that in terms of behaviour-
al indices, Japanese readers take less time to judge
whether a sentence makes sense when it has an SOV
word order than when i t has an OSV word o rder
(Tamaoka et al., 2005 ). Other studies, using self-paced
reading and eye-tracking methodo logies, have foun d
longer reading times for OSV as compared to SOV sen-
tences in Japa nese (Im amur a & Koiz umi, 2008;Mazuka
et al., 2002). Par allel results from the processing of ortho-
graphically and phonologicall y prese nted s entenc es have
been reported for many other languages (see, e.g. Kaiser
& Trueswell, 2004, for Finnish; Kim, 2012,forKorean;
Sekerina, 1997, for Russian; Tamaoka, Kanduboda, &
Sakai, 2011, for Sinhalese). In terms of neurophysiologi-
cal indices, studies using functional magnetic resonance
imaging have found that there is a greater activation of
the left inferior frontal gyrus during the processing of
OS word orders compared to SO word orders (Grewe
et al., 2007, for German; Kim et al., 2009; and Kinno,
Kawamura, Shioda, & Sakai, 2008, for Japanese). ERP
research also supports the claim that SO word orders
are easier to process. For instance, compared with SO
orders, OS orders elicit a P600 and/or (sustained) anterior
negativity components, suggesting that processing OS
word orders place a larger load on working memory
(Erdocia, Laka, Mestres-Missé, & Rodriguez-Fornells,
2009, for Basque; Roesler, Pechmann, Streb, Roeder, &
Hennighaus en, 1998, for Ge rman; Ueno & Kluender,
2003; and Hagiwara, Soshi, Ishih ara, & Imanaka, 2007,
for Japanese).
Thus, solid evidence exists to support the notion that
SO word orders are preferred to OS word orders in many
languages of the wo rld. The question then arises as to the
sources of this preference in sentence comprehension. A
possibility that immediately comes to mind is that it is pri-
marily due to syntactic canonicity (i.e. individual grammar
theory). According to many sentence-processing theories, a
languages syntactically determined basic word order is
easier to process than other grammatically possible but
non-canonical derived word orders in the language (e.g.
Gibson, 2000 ; Hawkins, 2004;OGrady, 1997; Pritchett
& Whitman, 1995). Thus, according to the individual
grammar theory, SO word orders were preferred in pre-
vious studies because they were the syntactically basic
word orders in the target languages.
An alternative explanation is that the SO word order
preference in sentence comprehension may be largely
attributable to human cognitive features that are more uni-
versal
(i.e. universal cognition theory). That there may be
such features is strongly suggested by the fact that a vast
majority of the worlds languages have one of the SO
word orders as the basic word order (SOV 48%, SVO
41%, VSO 8%, VOS 2%, OVS 1%, and OSV 0.5%,
according to Dryer, 2005; see also Gell-Mann & Ruhlen,
2011). In particular, several studies have shown that enti-
ties that are prominent as a result of properties such as
agency, animacy, concreteness, prototypicality, and prior
mention in the discourse tend to appear as sentence-
initial subjects (cf. Branigan, Pickering, & Tanaka, 2008 ;
Bock & Warren, 1985; Bornkessel-Schlesewsky & Schle-
sewsky, 2009a; Hirsh-Pasek & Golinkoff, 1996; Primus,
1999; Slobin & Bever, 1982). Universal cognition theory,
therefore, leads to the expectation that SO word order has
a low processing load regardless of the basic word order
of any individual language; this is consistent with what
has been reported in the literature so far.
Both individual grammar theory and universal cogni-
tion theory correctly predict the SO word order preference
in sentence comprehension in SO languages. However,
their predictions diverge when it comes to OS languages.
According to individual grammar theory, OS word orders
should be processed faster than SO word orders in these
languages. However, universal cognition theory predicts
that the opposite should be the case. It is therefore necess-
ary to study OS languages to test these theories. To this
end, Koizumi et al. (2014) conducted an experiment with
a sentence plausibility judgement task in Kaqchikel, a
VOS Mayan language with a flexible word order. In this
experiment, grammatical transitive sentences, either
semantically plausible or implausible, in three different
word orders (i.e. VOS, VSO, and SVO) as well as filler
sentences were aurally presented in a random order to the
participants through headsets. The participants were
asked to judge whether each sentence was semantically
plausible and to push a YES button (natural sentence)
or NO button (unnatural sentence) as quickly and accu-
rately as possible according to their judgement. The time
from the beginning of each stimulus sentence until the
button press was measured as the reaction time. They
found that semantically plausible sentences in VOS order
were processed faster than those in SVO or VOS order.
This suggests that VOS, an OS order, is preferred to
SVO and VSO, both of which are SO orders, in Kaqchikel
1210 D. Yasunaga et al.
Downloaded by [Tohoku University] at 18:41 18 October 2015
sentence comprehension. Based on these results, Koizumi
et al. (2014) concluded that the SO order preference in sen-
tence comprehension may not be universal. The test items
used in Koizumi et al. (2014) were nonreversible sentences
(i.e. sentences with an animate subject and an inanimate
object), but the results were replicated with reversible sen-
tences (i.e. sentences with an animate subject and an
animate object) as reported in Kiyama, Tamaoka, Kim,
and Koizumi (2013).
There are, however, at least two remaining questions.
One has to do with contextua l effects. As explicitly men-
tioned and discussed in Koizumi et al. (2014) as well as
in Section 3 of the present paper, in Kaqchikel, VOS
order can be felicitously used in a wide range of contexts,
including the absence of any substantial context, whereas
SVO is frequently used in contexts where the subject is a
topic (Ajsivinac Sian, García Mátzar, Cutzal, & Alonzo
Guaján, 2004, pp. 178180; García Matzar & Rodríguez
Guaján, 1997, p. 334; Tichoc Cumes et al., 2000,
pp. 219223). It is therefore likely that the higher proces-
sing load of SVO in their experiment is at least partially
attributable to the lack of felicitous contexts. SVO sen-
tences might be easier to process than VOS sentences if
an appropriate context is given. In other words, it is not
clear the extent to which the OS preference in Kaqchikel
found in the Koizumi et al. (2014) and Kiyama et al.
(2013) experiments is due to syntactic rather than contex-
tual factors. Another weakness of these studies has to do
with the index of processing load used. The y measured
reaction times for sentence plausibility judgements.
Although reaction times for sentence plausibility judge-
ments provide us with useful data reflecting the processing
load of a sentence as a whole, they convey no information
about the time course of sentence processing. Accordingly,
we cannot determine, based on them, whether the proces-
sing load increased in the expected sentence regions at
the expected times.
In order to overcome these difficulties, in the present
study, we r ecorded ERPs during a picturesentence match-
ing task. In this task, a picture was presented in the centre
of a com puter screen in front of the participant and, after
the pict ure disappeared, a Kaq chikel sentence was
aurally presented th rough a h eadset. The task of the par-
ticipant was to judge whether the meaning of the sentence
was congruent with the content of the picture. The
measurement of ERPs enabled us to investigate the time
course of sentence processing. M oreove r, there is good
reason to believe that the presentation of a picture pri or
to the corresponding sentence provided an appropriate
non-verbal context, not only for VOS word order, but
also for SVO word order. For instance, in a production
study that used a picture description task, Kaqchikel
speak ers used SVO word or der more than 70% of the
time (Kubo, Ono, Tanaka, Koizumi, & Sakai, 2012;see
also Section 4).
3. Kaqchikel
Kaqchikel, previously spelled Cakchiquel, is one of the
21 Mayan languages spoken in Guatemala. It is mainly
used in the highlands west of Guatemala City; it has over
450,000 speakers (Brown, Maxwell, & Little, 2006,p.2;
Lewis, 2009; Tay Coyoy, 1996, p. 55).
Like other Mayan languages, Kaqchikel is head-
marking. Subjects and objects are unmarked, and person
and number agreement for both subjects and objects is obli-
gatorily expressed on the verb. Kaqchikel is ergative, like
other Mayan languages. The order of morphemes in the
verb is [Aspect-Absolutive-Ergative-Verb stem].
1
An
example is given in (1) below.
(1) Y-e-in-to
IC-ABS3pl-ERG1sg-help
I help them.
Because Kaqchikel is a pro-drop language, (1) func-
tions as an independent sentence.
Like many other Mayan languages, Kaqchikel allows
different grammatical word orders. However, according
to García Matzar and Rodríguez Guaján (1997) and
others, its basic word order is VOS, as exemplified in
(2a), in which neither the subject nor the object is topica-
lised or focused (Ajsivinac Sian et al., 2004 , p. 162;
García Matzar & Rodríguez Guaján, 1997, p. 333; Rodrí-
guez Guaján, 1994 , p. 200; Tichoc Cumes et al., 2000,
p. 195). VOS is thus typically used in a neutral context.
If the sentence is semantically irreversible, VSO is also
possible as in (2b), although VOS is favoured.
(2) a. X-Ø-u-chöy ri chäj ri ajanel. [VOS]
CP-ABS3sg-ERG3sg-cut DET pine.tree DET
carpenter
b. X-Ø-u-chöy ri ajanel ri chäj. [VSO]
CP-ABS3sg-ERG3sg-cut DET carpenter DET
pine.tree
The carpenter cut the pine tree.
In cases like (3a,b), where the sentence is semantically
reversible (i.e. it makes sense when the object and subject
are reversed), a VOS interpretation is overwhelmingly
favoured (even though a VSO interpretation is still
possible).
(3) a. X-Ø-r-oqotaj ri mesritzi.
CP-ABS3sg-ERG3sg-run.after DET cat DET dog
The dog ran after the cat.
b. X-Ø-r-oqotaj ri tzi ri mes.
CP-ABS3sg-ERG3sg-run.after DET dog DET cat
The cat ran after the dog.
In the Kaqchikel of the sixteenth century, VSO was
employed when the object was complex. In current
Language, Cognition and Neuroscience 1211
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speech, VSO sentences are only used in very restricted
contexts (García Matzar & Rodríguez Guaján, 1997,
p. 342).
SVO is used when the subject is topicalised by
moving it before the verb (García Matzar & Rodríguez
Guaján, 1997, p. 334). Similarly, in OVS sentences, the
object has been fronted as a topic (García Matzar &
Rodríguez Guaján, 1997, p. 335). These are illustrated
in (4).
(4) a. Ri ajanel x-Ø-u-chöy ri chäj. [SVO]
DET carpenter CP-ABS3sg-ERG3sg-cut
DET pine.tree
The carpenter cut the pine tree.
b. Ri chäj x-Ø-u-chöy ri ajanel. [OVS]
DET pine.tree CP-ABS3sg-ERG3sg-cut
DET carpenter
The carpenter cut the pine tree.
Thus, all the word orders other than VOS are pragma-
tically and syntactically marked.
2
Furthermore, not only arguments, but also adverbs and
adjuncts can be topicalised to the left of the verb, giving
rise to a derived word order. This is exemplified in (5).
When certain types of adjuncts (locative, instrumental,
etc.) are preposed, the particle wi is inserted in the original
position of the fronted constituent, as illustrated in (5b)
(García Matzar & Rodríguez Guaján, 1997, p. 349; cf.
also Yasugi, 2005).
(5) a. Aninäq x-Ø-u-bin-isa-j la akwal la achi
rapidly CP-ABS3sg-ERG3sg-walk-CAU-VT DET girl
DET man
The man made the girl walk rapidly. (Tichoc et al.,
2000, p.228)
b. Wawe Iximche n-Ø-u-bän wi ri r-ochoch
here Iximche IC-ABS3sg-ERG3sg-do WI DET
POS3sg-house
ri a Waqi Kej.
DET CL Waqi Kej
Here in Iximche, Waqi Kej builds his house. (García
Matzar & Rodríguez Guaján, 1997, p. 354)
It is thus clear that the preverbal position is not the dedi-
cated subject position in Kaqchikel.
For these and other reasons, many Mayan language
researchers consider the syntactically determined basic
word order of modern Kaqchikel to be VOS (Ajsivinac
Sian et al ., 2004, p. 162; García Matzar & Rodríguez
Guaján, 1997, p. 333; Rodríguez Guaján, 1994, p. 200;
Tichoc et al., 2000, p. 195).
3
Although precise syntactic
structures of Mayan languages are still under debate, for
the purpose of the present study, it is sufficient to
assume, for Kaqchikel transitive sentences with different
word orders, the schematic syntactic structures shown in
(6), in which VOS is structurally simpler than the other
orders (cf. England, 1991; Preminger, 2011; Tada, 1993;
see also Aissen, 1992 and Coon, 2010, among many
others, for other Mayan languages).
(6) Order Schematic syntactic structure
VOS [VOS]
VSO [[V gap
i
S] O
i
]
SVO [S
i
[VO gap
i
]]
OVS [O
i
[V gap
i
S]]
It should be noted at this point that even though Kaqchi-
kel has VOS as its syntactically basic word order, it is the
SVO order that is most frequently used in this language
(England, 1991, p. 472; Kubo et al., 2012; Maxwell &
Little, 2006, p. 102; Rodríguez Guaján, 1994, p. 201).
According to Kubo et al. (2012), for example, of all the sen-
tences with a transitive verb and nominal subject and object
produced in their sentence production experiment with a
picture description task, sentences with the SVO, VOS,
and VSO word order constituted 74.4%, 24.2%, and 1.4%
of the total sentences produced, respectively (see also
Kubo, Ono, Tanaka, Koizumi, & Sakai, 2015). SVO, in
which the subject is topicalised, is most frequently
employed partly because it produces cohesion in discourse.
Furthermore, in some dialects/idiolects of Kaqchikel (e.g.
Patzún Kaqchikel), VOS sentences are only interpreted as
questions when both the subject and object are definite
and at an equal level of animacy (Kim, 2011; see also
England, 1991). For these reasons, some researchers
suggest that at least some dialects of Kaqchikel may be shift-
ing or have shifted from a VOS to an SVO language (Brown
et al., 2006; England, 1991; Kim, 2011). However, if indeed
a part of the modern Kaqchikel community is currently shift-
ing from using VOS to SVO as the syntactically basic word
order, this shift has not yet been reflected in the internal
grammar of the majority of native Kaqchikel speakers, as
suggested, for example, by the fact that the VOS order
was processed faster than the SVO order in several behav-
ioural experiments (e.g. Kiyama et al., 2013; Koizumi
et al., 2014) as well as the fact that the participants of the
present study accept declarative VOS sentences more than
95% of the time (see Section 5.5.1).
Not only in Kaqchikel but also in many Mayan
languages, word orders in which subjects are preposed
appear more frequently than the syntactically determined
basic word order. Therefore, it has been suggested that
when examining the basic word order of Mayan
languages, syntactically determined word order from
the standpoint of syntactic complexity needs to be distin-
guished from pragmatically determined word order,
commonly used for pragmatic purposes (Brody, 1984;
England, 1991). The discrepancy between the m ost fre-
quently used word order and syntactically basic word
order, if framed in terms of word order differences, might
appear to be unique to OS languages. However, from a
1212 D. Yasunaga et al.
Downloaded by [Tohoku University] at 18:41 18 October 2015
more general viewpoint, similar situations are also
observed in SO languag es such as Korean and Japanese.
Take Japanese, an SOV language, for example. In Japa-
nese, the subject is marked with the nominative case
marker, and the object with the accusative case marker,
in pragmatically neutral contexts. When the referent of
the subject is a discourse topic, the subject is preposed
and marked with the topic marker (Kitagawa, 1982;
Kuroda, 1988; Saito, 1985; Shibatani, 1990; Tateishi,
1990; among many others). This is schematically shown
in (7) (Shibatani, 1990, p. 274).
(7) a. [S-nom O-acc V]
b. [S-top [ ____ O-acc V]]
[S-nom O-acc V] vs. [S-top [ ____ O-acc V]] in
Japanese seems to be parallel to VOS vs. SVO in Kaqchi-
kel. [S-nom O-acc V] in Japanese and VOS in Kaqchikel
are syntactically simple, and used typically in pragmati-
cally neutral contexts. [S-top [ ____ O-acc V]] and SVO
are syntactically more complex and used in contexts
where the subject is a topic. The production frequencies
of [S-top [ ____ O-acc V]] and SVO are several times
higher than those of [S-nom O-acc V] and VOS, respect-
ively (see Imamura & Koizumi (2011) for the production
frequency in Japanese). It may, therefore, be the norm
rather than an exception that sentences with a topicalised
subject (which is presumably associated with the most
commonly used information structure) are more frequently
produced than corresponding sentences with a non-topica-
lised subject in languages that morpho-syntactically dis-
tinguish between the two kinds of subject. Viewed this
way, there is nothing surprising about the fact that in Kaq-
chikel, SVO with a topicalised subject is used more fre-
quently than VOS with a non-topicalised subject (see
also Section 6).
4. Why Kaqchikel?
As pointed out in Section 1, to test the two theories (i.e.
individual grammar theory and universal cognition
theory), it is necessary to examine OS languages, for
which the two theories make different predictions.
Given that Kaqchikel is an OS language with the fea-
tures described in Section 3, the following predictions
were made about processing load in the comprehension
of Kaqchikel sentences: if the preference for SO word
order shown by speakers of SO languages is closely
related w ith the syntactic canonicity of the individual
language, as suggested by individual grammar theory,
VOS sentences will have a lower processing load than
sentences with the other word orders s hown in (6)
above. On the other hand, if SO triggers a lower
processing load than OS regardless of the basic word
order of the individual grammar, as suggested by univer-
sal cognition theory, t hen Kaqchikel VOS sentences
should create a greater processing load than SVO and
VSO sentences.
Another advantage of using Kaqchikel in this study has
to do with production frequency. As mentioned in the pre-
vious section, the SVO order is used more frequently than
the basic VOS order. In the psycholinguistic literature,
there are cases in which the frequency with which the
words and sentence structures appear affects the sen-
tence-processing load (e.g. Trueswell, Tanenhaus, &
Kello, 1993). That is, speakers of the language are more
proficient in sentence structures and words that are used
frequently, and they are more likely to process these with
great speed and a high level of accuracy. Thus, it is interest-
ing to observe how production frequency influences sen-
tence processing in Kaqchikel. We will return to this
issue in Section 6.
5. Experiment
5.1. Participants
Sixteen native speakers of Kaqchikel participated in the
experiment (7 females and 9 males, M = 31.13 years, SD
= 11.24). The place of origin and residence of the partici-
pants were distributed evenly throughout a wide range of
the central Guatemala highlands, without any concen-
tration on a particular region/dialect. They also used
Spanish in daily life. All participants had normal or cor-
rected-to-normal vision and self-reported as being right-
handed. Prior to the experiment, written informed
consent was obtained from each participant. They were
paid for their participation. Approval for the study was
obtained from the Ethics Committee of the Graduate
School of Arts and Letters, Tohoku University.
5.2. Method and stimuli
Electroencephalogram (EEG) was recorded while the par-
ticipant engaged in the picturesentence matching task.
In this task, a picture was presented in the centre of a com-
puter screen for three seconds and, after the picture disap-
peared, a Kaqchikel sentence was aurally presented
through a headset.
4
After the sentence ended, a question
mark appeared in the centre of the screen. The participant
was instructed to answer, upon seeing a question mark,
whether the content of the picture was congruent with the
meaning of the sentence by clicking a mouse button to indi-
cate either YES or NO (Figure 1). A practice session
was carried out to allow the participants to habituate to
the task. As a general rule, the experimen tal session was
started after the participants accuracy exceeded 80% in
the practice session.
Language, Cognition and Neuroscience 1213
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Each picture used in this experiment depicted a transi-
tive action describable with one of the following six verbs
commonly used in Kaqchikel: chäy hit, jïk pull, nïm
push, oyoj call, pixabaj bless, and xibij surprise.
Either the agent(s) or the patient(s) consisted of two
persons, and the other consisted of just a single person.
The agent(s) and patient(s) were painted in different
colours; the colours used were the four colours describable
with the following familiar colour terms in Kaqchikel: käq
red, xar blue, säq white, and qëq black.
Transitive sentences congruent with the contents of the
pictures were arranged into each of the four word orders
(VOS, VSO, SVO, and OVS) as exemplified in (8).
5
Forty-eight sets of sentences yielding a total of 192 target
sentences were created in this way. All the target sentences
were so-called reversible sentences, with a definite human
subject, definite human object, and action verb in past
tense. In order to morpho-sy ntactically differentiate the
two argument roles, half of the sentences contained a
singular subject and plural object, whereas the other half
contained a plural subject and singular object. As these
192 sentences were congruent with the contents of the cor-
responding pictures, the correct response is YES for
these sentences.
(8) a. Xkoyoj/ri xar/ri taq käq. [VOS]
CP-ABS3sg-ERG3pl-call/ DET blue/ DET
PM red
The reds called the blue.
b. Xkoyoj/ri taq käq/ri xar. [VSO]
c. Ri taq käq/xkoyoj/ri xar. [SVO]
d. Ri xar/xkoyoj/ri taq käq. [OVS]
Another 96 sentences were created such that they did
not match the corresponding pictures (in that the roles of
the subject and object were reversed, the colour of either
the subject or object was i ncorrect, or the action depicted
by the verb was incorrect); thus, the correct response to
these sentences was NO. A total of 288 stimuli sen-
tences were presented to each participant in r andom
order.
The sentences were recorded by a male native Kaqchi-
kel speaker. The length of time duration of each sentence
was edited in Praat ver. 5.1.31 to create an equal duration
across the four word order conditions by slightly shorten-
ing the duration of some pauses between phrases. There
was no particular word order condition whose sentences
were significantly more heavily edited (in terms of the
total duration shortened) than the sentences of any other
conditions. After the editing, all the test items were
judged as natural in terms of prosody by our native Kaqchi-
kel consultants. The averages and standard deviations of
time duration for word order are given in Table 1. A one-
way analysis of variance (ANOVA) showed no significant
differences among the word orders in terms of time dur-
ation between the onset and offset of the sentence [F(3,
141) = 0.986, p = .40, ns.]. The stimulus onset asynchrony
(SOA) between the first and second phrases (i.e. the dur-
ation of Region 1) and the SOA between the second and
third phrases (i.e. the duration of Region 2) are more
than 900 ms in all the four conditions. Thus, it can be
safely assumed that EEG signals up to around 900 ms
after the onset of each phrase were not affected by the
input of the subsequent phrase. Phrases directly compared
with each other (as stated in Section 5.3) were comparable
and not statistically different in duration. In particular, there
was no main effect of word order among the four con-
ditions on the time duration of the third region [F(3,
141) = 1.08, p = .36].
The location of trigger pulses in stimuli for EEG
recordings/analyses was determined in manner of visual
inspection of the speech waveform of each sentence and
in an auditory manner, using Praat, by the experimen ters.
The trigger pulses were synchronised with the onset of
each region for all stimulus sentences, as illustrated in
Figure 2 with sentence (8a) as an example.
Figure 1. Design of the task used in the experiment. Participants were instructed to judge whether the sentence they heard was congruent
with the preceding picture, and to respond by pressing one of two buttons (indicating YES or NO). EEGs were recorded while par-
ticipants listened to the sentences.
1214 D. Yasunaga et al.
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5.3. Predictions
Each stimulus sentence consisted of V, O, and S. The sets
of words used for S and O were identical to each other
across the four word order conditions. Thus, the ERP com-
ponents elicited by S and O could be directly compared.
The set of words used for V were different from those
used for S and O in a number of respects, including
meaning, grammatical category, production frequency,
and the number of phonemes and morphemes. As these
factors affect the distribution of ERP components (e.g.
Bornkessel-Schlesewsky & Schlesewsky, 2009b), we did
not compare the ERP responses elicited by S and O, on
the one hand, and V, on the other hand.
We used a late positive ERP component, commonly
referred to as the P600, as an index of an increased filler-
gap integration cost. It has been repeatedly observed that
the greater syntactic processing difficulty causes a large
positive-going shift, broadly distributed over the scalp,
after presentation of the difficulty-inducing word. This is
referred to as the P600 effect (Hagoort, Brown, & Groothu-
sen, 1993; Osterhout et al., 1992). This effect is rather
robust, and is often observed across types of difficulty
with processing loads against word order, verb subcategor-
isation, syntactic reanalysis, dependency formation (Kaan
& Swaab, 2003b), types of languages including word
order languages (Dutch; Hagoort, & Brown, 2000), case-
marked languages (Japanese; Hagiwara et al., 2007), and
isolating languages (Chinese; Yang, Charles, & Liu,
2010), and various methodological factors, such as
modality of the stimulus (i.e. visual or auditory). A P600
effect is also observed for syntactically ill-formed sen-
tences (e.g. The hungry guests helped himself to the food;
Osterhout & Mobley, 1995), thematically reversed
sentences (e.g. The hearty meal was devouring the kids;
Kim & Osterhout, 2005), and picture sentence mismatches
(e.g. The triangle stands in front of the square, after
presenting a picture depicting a triangle behind a square;
Vissers, Kolk, Van de Meerendonk, & Chwilla, 2008)
(for more general review, see Bornkessel-Schlesewsky &
Schlesewsky, 2009b). However, only grammatical sen-
tences congruent with a preceding picture were analysed
in the present study. In addition, although grammatically
non-preferred continuation elicits a P600, our experimental
stimuli did not include such continuation requiring revision
of an initial syntactic structure (e.g. the man is painting the
house and the garage is already finished) (Kaan & Swaab,
2003a). Therefore, the P600 effect in the experiment is cor-
related with filler-gap integration difficulty. In particular, it
has been observed that the P600 is elicited at a gap position
regardless of whether the corresponding filler precedes or
follows the gap. For example, Yano, Tateyama, and Saka-
moto (2014) examined the processing of a gap-filler (rather
than filler-gap) dependency in Japanese cleft constructions,
and found P600 effects at the pre-filler gap position, but no
P600 effect at the subsequent filler position.
Another possible interpretation of the late positive
components has to do with the experimental task. In the
present experiment, the pictures were presented before the
sentences, and a decision was required after sentence
offset. Thus, the positivities observed might be a variant of
P300, indexing decision-related processes (Coulson, King,
&Kutas,1998; Haupt, Schlesewsky, Roehm, Friederici, &
Bornkessel-Schlesewsky, 2008; Sassenhagen, Schlesewsky,
& Bornkessel-Schlesewsky, 2014). This, however, is unli-
kely for the following reason. Only those sentences that
were correctly marked YES were included for the analysis
of ERPs, and given the design of the experimental sentences
described above, decisions for the YES
sentences cannot
b
e made until encountering the third regions (e.g. the S of
VOS). Thus, there is no reason to believe that decision-
related processes differed across the four word order
conditions, yielding the decision-related P3.
Given this, if SVO sentences involve a filler-gap
dependency, as schematically shown in (6) above , we
Table 1. Mean duration of semantically plausible transitive sentences (Yes items) of each word order. (M = mean, SD = standard
deviation).
Word order
Whole sentence
(ms) Duration of R1 (ms) Duration of R2 (ms)
Duration of R3
(ms)
M SD M SD M SD M SD
VOS 2895 155 1189 126 955 124 751 118
VSO 2904 149 1199 147 978 124 727 115
SVO 2896 152 948 122 1122 123 826 134
OVS 2899 156 902 182 1132 130 865 108
Note: n = 48.
Figure 2. Trigger pulses were synchronised to the onset of each
region for all sentences.
Language, Cognition and Neuroscience 1215
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should observe a late positive ERP component, that is, the
P600, in response to the third region (i.e. O) of SVO sen-
tences as compared to the third region of canonical VOS
sentences (i.e. S), as the P600 is elicited when a filler is
integrated with a corresponding gap position or, more gen-
erally, when processing load increases. In addition, we
expected to observe a P600 component in response to the
second, rather than the third, region of the VSO sentences
(i.e. S) as compared to the second region of the VOS
sentences (i.e. O). As for OVS sentences, if they included
a gap after the verb, as represented in (6), we would expect
P600 effects upon encountering the verb (second region)
when compared with SVO sentences, which in turn
would elicit syntactic positivity at the third region (i.e.
for the O of SVO relative to the S of OVS). We might
also observe an N400 for the O of OVS relative to the S
of SVO due to the extremely low production frequency
of O initial sentences.
5.4. Data analysis
The EEG for the congruent sentences was recorded from
17 Ag-AgCl electrodes located at Fz, Cz, Pz, F7, F8, F3,
F4, T7, T8, C3, C4, P7, P8, P3, P4, O1, and O2 according
to the International 10-20 system (Jasper, 1958). The linked
earlobe served as a reference. All electrode impedances
were kept below 5 kΩ. Additional electrodes were placed
on the left side of the left eye and benea th the left eye to
monitor eye movements and blinks for later rejection.
Band-pass filtering was set from 0.01 to 50 Hz. Recorded
Table 2. Accuracy (%) in the picturesentence matching task.
Word order
Accuracy (%)
M SD
VOS 95.4 4.31
VSO 94.0 4.29
SVO 95.4 3.82
OVS 88.0 8.78
Note: n = 16.
Figure 3. Panel A: The grand averaged ERP waveforms for the third region in the SVO (O, blue lines) and VOS (S, black lines) word
order conditions for all 17 electrode sites. Negativity is plotted upward. Panel B: Voltage maps for the difference ERPs (SVO-VOS) for
every 100 ms from 300 to 800 ms.
1216 D. Yasunaga et al.
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Table 3. Statistical results for the third region of SVO versus VOS.
The third region of SVO versus
VOS
0100 ms 100200 ms 200300 ms 300400 ms
midline parasagittal temporal midline parasagittal temporal midline parasagittal temporal midline Parasagittal temporal
WordOrder F-value 0.05 0.07 0.30 0.30 0.68 0.49 0.59 1.67 1.85 0.13 1.66 0.76
Significance ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns.
W*Anteriority F-value 1.53 0.49 0.27 0.27 0.09 0.14 0.86 1.10 0.65 0.42 0.39 0.33
Significance ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns.
W*Hemisphere F-value N/A 2.11 2.07 N/A 5.16 2.39 N/A 2.88 3.12 N/A 6.46 5.23
Significance N/A ns. ns. N/A * ns. N/A ns. + N/A * *
W*A*H F-value N/A 2.68 0.20 N/A 2.17 0.34 N/A 2.09 2.66 N/A 1.94 6.28
Significance N/A + ns. N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. + N/A ns. +
400500 ms 500600 ms 600700 ms 700800 ms
midline parasagittal temporal midline parasagittal temporal midline parasagittal temporal midline Parasagittal temporal
WordOrder F-value 4.67 10.25 8.65 2.67 4.89 3.21 1.47 4.72 1.63 3.23 7.93 2.22
Significance * ** ** ns. * + ns. * ns. + * ns.
W*Anteriority F-value 0.86 1.56 0.13 0.31 1.34 0.19 0.32 0.15 0.87 0.95 0.41 2.10
Significance ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns.
W*Hemisphere F-value N/A 6.44 6.31 N/A 7.96 10.49 N/A 2.37 2.08 N/A 4.13 1.22
Significance N/A * * N/A * *** N/A ns. ns. N/A + ns.
W*A*H F-value N/A 2.15 4.19 N/A 2.01 2.21 N/A 1.86 5.98 N/A 2.07 4.78
Significance N/A ns. * N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. *** N/A ns. *
Note: ns.: p > .10, +: p < .10, N/A: not applicable.
*p < .05.
**p < .01.
***p < .005.
****p < .001.
Language, Cognition and Neuroscience 1217
Figure 4. Panel A: The grand averaged ERP waveforms for the second region in the VSO (S, red lines) and VOS (O, black lines) word
order conditions for all 17 electrode sites. Negativity is plotted upward. Panel B: The voltage maps of the difference ERPs (VSO-VOS) for
every 100 ms from 300 to 800 ms.
Figure 5. The grand averaged ERP waveforms for the second region in the SVO (blue lines) and OVS (green lines) word order conditions
for all 17 electrode sites. Negativity is plotted upward.
1218 D. Yasunaga et al.
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Table 4. Statistical results for the second region of VSO versus VOS.
The second region of VSO
versus VOS
0100 ms 100200 ms 200300 ms 300400 ms
midline parasagittal temporal midline parasagittal temporal midline parasagittal temporal midline Parasagittal temporal
WordOrder F-value 0.07 0.38 0.92 0.07 0.14 1.23 0.93 0.07 0.87 2.23 1.64 0.01
Significance ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns.
W*Anteriority F-value 0.37 2.62 3.13 0.42 1.14 1.99 0.79 1.26 2.95 0.45 0.77 0.16
Significance ns. + + ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. + ns. ns. ns.
W*Hemisphere F-value N/A 0.10 0.49 N/A 4.08 1.82 N/A 0.56 1.86 N/A 0.10 0.57
Significance N/A ns. ns. N/A + ns. N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns.
W*A*H F-value N/A 0.16 0.49 N/A 1.11 1.81 N/A 2.88 2.74 N/A 1.00 1.54
Significance N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns. N/A + + N/A ns. ns.
400500 ms 500600 ms 600700 ms 700800 ms
midline parasagittal temporal midline parasagittal temporal midline parasagittal temporal midline Parasagittal temporal
WordOrder F-value 0.67 0.25 0.09 0.23 0.01 1.02 0.20 1.10 2.44 0.02 1.46 2.94
Significance ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns.
W*Anteriority F-value 0.09 0.30 0.31 0.52 0.53 1.73 2.39 1.54 7.18 2.70 2.03 8.74
Significance ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. *** + ns. *
W*Hemisphere F-value N/A 0.75 0.04 N/A 0.93 0.02 N/A 6.62 2.57 N/A 6.22 3.25
Significance N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns. N/A * ns. N/A * +
W*A*H F-value N/A 1.26 0.44 N/A 0.63 0.56 N/A 0.29 0.61 N/A 0.40 0.62
Significance N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns.
Note: ns.: p > .10, +: p < .10, N/A: not applicable.
*p < .05.
**p < .01.
***p < .005.
****p < .001.
Language, Cognition and Neuroscience 1219
Table 5. Statistical results for the second region of SVO versus OVS.
The second region of SVO
versus OVS
0100 ms 100200 ms 200300 ms 300400 ms
midline parasagittal temporal midline parasagittal temporal midline parasagittal temporal midline Parasagittal temporal
WordOrder F-value 0.01 >0.00 0.25 1.16 1.72 1.80 1.68 3.21 4.72 7.00 10.28 11.72
Significance ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. * * ** **
W*Anteriority F-value 5.43 1.70 2.22 7.09 2.32 4.34 13.77 6.28 17.22 11.38 2.96 11.10
Significance * ns. ns. ** ns. * *** ** *** *** + **
W*Hemisphere F-value N/A 4.37 1.47 N/A 0.74 0.23 N/A 0.01 1.81 N/A 1.18 0.06
Significance N/A + ns. N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns.
W*A*H F-value N/A 0.15 0.42 N/A 1.33 1.15 N/A 2.7 6.82 N/A 2.21 2.00
Significance N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns. N/A + ** N/A ns. ns.
400500 ms 500600 ms 600700 ms 700800 ms
midline parasagittal temporal midline parasagittal temporal midline parasagittal temporal midline Parasagittal temporal
WordOrder F-value 1.04 2.51 3.58 0.12 > 0.00 0.39 2.19 1.12 0.01 6.94 4.49 1.85
Significance ns. ns. + ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. * + ns.
W*Anteriority F-value 4.45 0.96 4.23 2.67 1.01 0.93 0.22 1.38 0.29 0.99 2.44 0.59
Significance * ns. * ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns.
W*Hemisphere F-value N/A 1.47 0.47 N/A 0.63 0.14 N/A 0.55 0.25 N/A 2.33 0.94
Significance N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns.
W*A*H F-value N/A 3.68 2.50 N/A 4.22 3.54 N/A 3.91 3.16 N/A 3.55 2.69
Significance N/A * ns. N/A * * N/A * + N/A * +
Note: ns.: p > .10, +: p < .10, N/A: not applicable.
*p < .05.
**p < .01.
***p < .005.
****p < .001.
1220 D. Yasunaga et al.
signals were digitised at a sampling rate of 250 Hz. ERPs
were quantified by averaging for each region in the time
window of 01000 ms for each participant in all con-
ditions. The baseline was set to 100 ms prior to stimulus
onset. Trials with ERP artefacts exceeding ±80 μVin
these time windows were automatically eliminated. The
error trials were also excluded from the averaging.
5.5. Results
5.5.1. Behavioural data
The accuracy rate for the picturesentence matching task
was calculated for each word order for each participant
(Table 2). A one-way repeated measures ANOVA with
task accuracy as the dependent variable was performed
with WordOrder (four levels; VOS, VSO, SVO, OVS) as
the within-participants factor. The ANOVA revealed a
main effect for WordOrder [F(3, 45) = 6.24, p = .001].
The Bonferroni multiple comparisons revealed that the
accuracy for VOS (95.4%, SD = 4.3) was significantly
greater than th e accuracy for OVS (88%, SD = 8.8) (p
= .009).
6
The difference between the SVO (95.4%, SD =
3.8) and OVS word orders was marginally significant (p
= .074). No other comparison between word orders was
statistically significant.
5.5.2. Electrophysiological data
A repeated measures ANOVA was used to statically analyse
the mean voltage within time windows for every 100 ms
immediately after the onset of the region for each word
order. The statistical analyses were conducted separately at
the midline (Fz, Cz, and Pz), parasagittal (F3, F4, C3, C4,
P3, P4, O1, and O2), and temporal (F7, F8, T7, T8, P7,
and P8) arrays. The midline analysis consisted of repeated
measures ANOVAs with two within-group factors: WordOr-
der (two levels) × Anteriority (three levels). The parasagittal
and temporal analyses consisted of three within-group
factors: WordOrder (two levels) × Hemisphere (two
levels) × Anteriority (four levels in parasagittal arrays and
three levels in temporal arrays). The GreenhouseGeisser
correction for lack of sphericity was applied whenever appli-
cable (Greenhouse & Geisser, 1959). The original degrees of
freedom were reported with the corrected probability level.
5.5.2.1. SV
O versus VOS. A visual inspection of the
ERPs indicated that the O of SVO, as compared to the S
of VOS, shifted positively in the time window of 300
800 ms, being distributed mainly in the left parietal
domain (Figure 3). This distribution was confirmed by
the results of the ANOVAs (Table 3). In the time window
of 300400 ms, the interactions between WordOrder and
Hemisphere were significant at the parasagittal and tem-
poral domains [parasagittal: F(1, 15) = 6.46, p < .05, tem-
poral: F(1, 15) = 5.23, p < .05]. In both domains, the
simple main effects of WordOrder were s ignificant in the
left hemisphere [parasagittal: p < .05, temporal: p < .05].
In the time window of 400500 ms, the interaction
between WordOrder, Hemisphere, and Anteriority was sig-
nificant at the temporal domain [F(2, 30) = 4.19, p < .05],
and the effects of WordOrder were significant at the sites
P7 (p < .05). The interactions between WordOrder and
Hemisphere were significant at the parasagittal and tem-
poral domains [parasagittal: F(1, 15) = 6.44, p < .05,
Figure 6. The grand averaged ERP waveforms for the third region in the SVO (blue lines) and OVS (green lines) word order conditions
for all 17 electrode sites. Negativity is plotted upward.
Language, Cognition and Neuroscience 1221
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Table 6. Statistical results for the third region of SVO versus OVS.
The third region of SVO versus
OVS
0100 ms 100200 ms 200300 ms 300400 ms
midline parasagittal temporal midline parasagittal temporal midline parasagittal temporal midline Parasagittal temporal
WordOrder F-value 0.84 1.35 2.06 0.38 0.48 1.69 0.10 0.17 0.35 0.05 0.40 0.59
Significance ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns.
W*Anteriority F-value 1.21 0.26 1.87 0.41 0.11 0.40 3.51 1.88 0.28 2.97 1.34 0.45
Significance ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. + ns. ns. + ns. ns.
W*Hemisphere F-value N/A 0.01 0.38 N/A 0.80 0.13 N/A 0.21 0.16 N/A >0.00 0.01
Significance N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns.
W*A*H F-value N/A 0.75 > 0.00 N/A 0.81 0.23 N/A 2.13 10.24 N/A 1.90 8.83
Significance N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. *** N/A ns. **
400500 ms 500600 ms 600700 ms 700800 ms
midline parasagittal temporal midline parasagittal temporal midline parasagittal temporal midline Parasagittal temporal
WordOrder F-value 0.53 0.67 > 0.00 1.45 1.41 0.10 0.75 0.84 > 0.00 1.49 1.71 0.45
Significance ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns.
W*Anteriority F-value 0.21 0.27 0.51 0.15 0.35 0.16 0.50 0.03 1.01 1.25 0.12 1.38
Significance ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns.
W*Hemisphere F-value N/A 0.51 0.19 N/A 0.05 2.4 N/A 0.69 0.04 N/A 0.18 0.07
Significance N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns.
W*A*H F-value N/A 1.82 4.86 N/A 1.05 2.13 N/A 2.34 7.61 N/A 2.18 7.80
Significance N/A ns. *** N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. *** N/A ns. ***
Note: ns.: p > .10, +: p < .10, N/A: not applicable.
*p < .05.
**p < .01.
***p < .005.
****p < .001.
1222 D. Yasunaga et al.
temporal: F(1, 15) = 6.31, p < .05]. In both domains, the
simple main effects of WordOrder were significant in the
left hemisphere [parasagittal: p < .001, temporal: p
< .001]. The interaction between WordOrder and Hemi-
sphere was significant in the time window of 500600
ms in the parasagittal and temporal arrays [parasagittal: F
(1, 15) = 7.96, p < .05, temporal: F(1,15) = 10.49, p
< .01]. These interactions showed a simple main effect of
WordOrder in the left hemisphere [parasagittal: p < .05,
temporal: p < .01]. The main effect of WordOrder was
observed in the parasagittal array in the time windows of
600700 ms and 700800 ms [600700 ms: F(1, 15) =
4.72, p < .05, 700800 ms: F(1, 15) = 7.93, p < .05].
Finally, the interactions of WordOrder, Hemisphere, and
Anteriority in the time windows of 600700 ms and 700
800 ms were significant in the temporal array [600700
ms: F(2, 30) = 5.98, p < .01, 700800 ms: F(2, 30) = 4.78,
p < .05]. These interactions indicate the simple-simple
main effect at P7 [600700 ms: p < .001, 700800 ms: p
< .001]. These results suggest that the O of SVO elicited
a long-lasting positivity relative to the S of VOS.
5.5.2.2. V
SO versus VOS. Figure 4 and Table 4 show the
results of the comparison of the S of VSO and the O of
VOS. In the time windows of 600700 ms and 700800
ms, the interactions between WordOrder and Hemisphere
were significant at the parasagittal array [600700 ms: F
(1, 15) = 6.62, p < .05, 700800 ms: F(1, 15) = 6.22, p
< .05]. The results of the mul tiple comparisons, however,
did not show statistical significance in the time windows
of 600700 ms and 700800 ms. In the time window of
700800 ms, the interact ion between WordOrder and Ante-
riority was significant at the temporal array [F(1, 15) =
8.74, p < .05]. The Bonferroni post hoc comparison
revealed significance at the parietal domain (p < .005).
Overall, we can conclude that the S of VSO elicited posi-
tivity at the parietal domain relative to the O of VOS.
ANOVAs were also conducted for the third region of
the VSO condition (i.e. O) and VOS condition (i.e. S).
The effect of WordOrder was not significant for any of
the time windows.
5.5.2.3. SVO vs. OVS. Other than the comparison
reported above, we compared SVO and OVS. In the first
region of the SVO condition (i.e. S) and the OVS condition
(i.e. O), no effects of WordOrder reached significance for
any time windows. That is, effects of relative production
frequency were not observed here. This may be because,
at the first noun phrase (NP), it is not yet clear whether it
is S or O, which will be made explicitly clear at the
second region by agreement morphemes on the V. As for
the second region, the V of OVS elicited a late positivity
relative to the V of SVO (Figure 5 and Table 5), consistent
with our expectation that the O would be associated with a
gap upon encountering the V in the processing of OVS sen-
tences. Finally, a visual inspection indicated that the O of
SVO, as compared to the S of OVS, shifted positively in
the time window of 500900 ms (Figure 6), as expected.
Figure 7. The grand averaged ERP waveforms for the first region in VOS + VSO (black dashed lines) and SVO + OVS (blue dotted lines)
for all 17 electrode sites. Negativity is plotted upward.
Language, Cognition and Neuroscience 1223
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This contrast (i.e. the main effects of word order), however,
did not reach statistical significance (Table 6), which might
be due to a spillover effect from the second region, where
the Vof OVS elicited a long-lasting positivity still observa-
ble at the onset of the third region.
6. Discussion
The aim of this study was to use ERPs to determine
whether VOS order, which is traditionally analysed as syn-
tactically canonical, is easier to process than other gramma-
tically possible word orders SVO in particular, which is
the most frequently used word order. To summarise the
results, the P600 was elicited by the comparison of the
SV
O and the VOS and by the comparison of the VSO
and the V
OS. The prediction was borne out that more
complex constructions with a filler-gap dependency eli-
cited a late positive component that occurred when the
gap was created.
The positive components observed in the two compari-
sons, however, differed in terms of latency and topographi-
cal distribution. The positivity observed in response to the
O of SVO at 300 ms post-stimulus onset peaked at 600
ms and had a maximum in the left frontal-temporal elec-
trode sites. Although it started to develop earlier than the
P600 typically reported for gap-filling parsing in European
languages such as English, long-lasting positivities like this
have been observed for a filler-gap dependency in studies
of processing scrambling (Hagiwara et al., 2007) and rela-
tive clauses (Ueno & Garnsey, 2008) in Japanese, consist-
ent with the interpretation that the P600 at the O of SVO in
Kaqchikel is a reflection of the cost of structural integration
(i.e. the increased resources necessary to integrate S into
the gap position after O). Alternatively, the earlier frontal
component around 400 ms, as opposed to the later com-
ponent at 600 ms, might be an anterior negativity elicited
to the S of VOS relative to the O of SVO. It is similar to the
ones observed for less frequent alternatives, as compared to
more frequent alternatives, in terms of subcategorisation
biases of verbs (Osterhout, Holcomb, & Swinney, 1994)
and telicity of verbs (Malaia, Wilbur, & Weber-Fox,
2009). If so, the earlier negative amplitudes in Kaqchikel
might be a reflection of the difference in production fre-
quency between SVO and VOS. On this interpretation,
we have observed ERP components indexing production
frequency (i.e. the anterior negativity to VOS) as well as
syntactic complexity (i.e. P600 to SVO).
In contrast, the posteriorly distributed positivity found
at the S region of th e VSO word order observed at 600
ms post-stimulus onset is more in line with previous find-
ings indicating that the posterior P600 is a reflect ion of the
repair process (Hagoort, Brown, & Osterhout, 1999; Kaan
& Swaab, 2003b). Assuming that VOS is canonical, the
Kaqchikel parser expects O after V. Thus, upon
Table 7. Statistical results for the first region of VOS + VSO versus SVO + OVS.
The first region of VOS&VSO
versus SVO&OVS
0100 ms 100200 ms 200300 ms 300400 ms
midline parasagittal temporal midline parasagittal temporal midline parasagittal temporal midline Parasagittal temporal
WordOrder F-value 10.66 20.64 21.12 9.04 16.56 13.14 1.89 1.63 1.24 0.43 0.32 2.77
Significance ** **** **** ** *** ** ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns.
W*Anteriority F-value 10.51 2.53 0.77 2.34 1.15 2.39 1.41 0.18 0.88 17.56 10.78 2.42
Significance *** + ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. *** *** ns.
W*Hemisphere F-value N/A 0.62 1.15 N/A 17.51 6.72 N/A 2.32 0.70 N/A 0.12 0.30
Significance N/A ns. ns. N/A *** * N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns.
W*A*H F-value N/A 2.59 1.06 N/A 1.59 0.63 N/A 4.22 0.77 N/A 3.94 4.47
Significance N/A + ns. N/A ns. ns. N/A * ns. N/A * *
Note: ns.: p > .10, +: p < .10, N/A: not applicable.
*p < .05.
**p < .01.
***p < .005.
****p < .001.
1224 D. Yasunaga et al.
Downloaded by [Tohoku University] at 18:41 18 October 2015
Table 8. Statistical results for 100 ms prior to the onset of the third region of SVO versus VOS using 100 ms prior to the onset of the first region as the baseline.
The third region of VOS versus
SVO without baseline
correction
0100 ms 100200 ms 200300 ms 300400 ms
midline parasagittal temporal midline parasagittal temporal midline Parasagittal temporal midline Parasagittal temporal
WordOrder F-value 0.62 0.67 0.11 4.74 3.63 1.73 2.07 1.42 0.68 1.33 1.4 0.46
Significance ns. ns. ns. + + ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns.
W*Anteriority F-value 0.03 2.34 3.67 0.31 2.23 1.07 0.24 1.44 1.28 0.72 1.89 2.42
Significance ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns.
W*Hemisphere F-value N/A 0.02 1.09 N/A 0.31 3.31 N/A 0.00 1.00 N/A 0.07 0.50
Significance N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns.
W*A*H F-value N/A 1.50 1.54 N/A 1.30 1.41 N/A 0.83 1.06 N/A 0.72 0.78
Significance N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns.
400500 ms 500600 ms 600700 ms 700800 ms
midline parasagittal temporal midline parasagittal temporal midline parasagittal temporal midline Parasagittal temporal
WordOrder F-value 2.51 1.80 0.66 2.93 1.82 1.15 3.57 2.52 2.26 3.60 2.37 2.57
Significance ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. + ns. ns. + ns. ns.
W*Anteriority F-value 0.02 1.89 2.31 0.10 1.70 2.01 0.74 1.84 1.52 3.19 1.96 0.17
Significance ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. ns. + ns. ns.
W*Hemisphere F-value N/A 0.14 0.50 N/A 0.00 2.49 N/A 0.00 0.63 N/A 0.00 0.84
Significance N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns.
W*A*H F-value N/A 0.54 0.58 N/A 0.60 0.55 N/A 0.41 0.53 N/A 0.25 0.36
Significance N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns. N/A ns. ns.
Note: ns.: p > .10, +: p < .10, N/A: not applicable.
Language, Cognition and Neuroscience 1225
encountering an NP after a V, it initially attempts to inte-
grate the NP as the object. In VOS sentences, this is the
correct choice. In VSO sentences, however, when NP is
the subject, it is an incorrect choice. Thus, a syntactic rea-
nalysis may be required, yielding a posterior P600 with a
relatively large latency.
7
The discrepancy between the most frequently used
word order (SVO) and the word order that is easiest to
process (VOS) might seem counterintuitive. However,
this is consistent with previous studies reporting that
while production frequency is oft en correlated with proces-
sing difficulty/preference (e.g. Levy, 2008), not all word
order preferences are mirrored by differences in corpus fre-
quency, and frequency is sometimes overridden by
grammar (Bornkessel, Schlesewsky, & Friederici, 2002;
Crocker & Keller, 2006; Kempen & Harbusch, 2005; see
Bornkessel-Schlesewsky & Schlesewsky, 2009b, 7.2.3
and 9.3.3. for a review). Koizumi et al. (2014) also
provide a discussion on why SVO is more frequently
used than VOS in Kaqchikel, despite the fact that SVO is
not the syntactically basic word order and is more difficult
to process than VOS.
A potentially serious problem with the direct compari-
son between SV
O and VO S above concerns baseline
differences (cf. Steinhauer & Drury, 2012). Note that the
crucial third region follows a verb in SVO, whereas it
follows a noun in VOS. As mentioned in Section 5.3, it
is known that grammatical categories affect the distribution
of ERP components (e.g. Federmeier, Segal, Lombr ozo, &
Kutas, 2000), and thus the P600 effect observed for the O
of SVO relative to the S of VOS might be due to processing
initiated at the previous words (a verb and a noun). In order
to investigate whether this is the case or not, we compared
VOS + VSO ERPs to SVO + OVS ERPs at the first
region.
8
As shown in Figure 7 and Table 7, nouns elicited
negativities, relative to verbs, at front-central areas. This
effect, however, was observed prominently around 200
ms after the onset. Thus, it is unlikely that the P600
effect observed at the third region emerged from the
word category difference in the second region. This con-
clusion is further supported by the following fact. Using
100 ms prior to the first region as the baseline, we com-
pared SVO to VOS at the time window of -100 to 0 ms
prior to the third region, which is the time window we
used as the baseline in the comparison of the O of SVO
to the S of VOS above. As shown in Table 8, no reliable
differences were observed between the two conditions.
Thus, we can safely conclude that the P600 component
observed with the comparison of SV
O vs. VOS is not
solely due to baseline confounds.
Finally, given that the pictures were presented before
the sentences in our experiment, it is possible that the par-
ticipants generated predictions about the form of the
upcoming sentences and that at least part of the ERP
pattern is related to these predictions. A foreseeable
extension of this research, therefore, would be to investi-
gate the effect of such expectations, by comparing the
results reported here with those of a new experiment with
a different design (e.g. one in which sentences are pre-
sented before pictures).
7. Conclusions
Through an examination of ERP effects on the processing
of Kaqchikel sentences with various word orders, we have
shown that the syntactically canonical VOS word order
incurs the least processing cost. The SVO word order,
though most frequently used, requires additional resources
in order to process the dependency between the initial S in
the sentence and the corresponding gap after the O. This
supports the suggestion of Koizumi et al. (2014) that the
preference for SO in sentence comprehension may not be
universal; rather, syntactic features of individual languages
significantly influence the sentence-processing load. More
broadly, we hope to have demonstrated the importance of
psycholinguistic research on typologically diverse, lesser
studied languages in uncovering universal and language-
particular aspects of the human language faculty.
Acknowledgements
We dedicate this paper to the memory of late Dr Tsutomu Saka-
moto of Kyushu University, Japan, who was an original
member of our research project and a pioneer of psycholinguistics
in Japan. We are grateful to Lolmay Pedro Oscar García Mátzar,
Juan Esteban Ajsivinac Sian, Filiberto Patal Majzul, Jungho Kim,
Sachiko Kiyama, Sun Meng, and the participants in our exper-
iment for their invaluable support for our research in Guatemala.
We would also like to thank audiences at the 146th meeting of the
Linguistic Society of Japan and the 47th NINJAL Colloquium,
the three anonymous reviewers, and our editor Elisabeth Norcliffe
for helpful comments on this paper.
Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.
Funding
The work for the present study was partially supported by the
Japan Society for the Promotion of Science under Grant-in-Aid
for Scientific Research (S) [No. 22222001, PI: Masatoshi
Koizumi] and (A) [No. 15H02603, PI: Masatoshi Koizumi].
Notes
1. Unless otherwise noted, the description of Kaqchikel grammar,
including its word order preference, is based on our fieldwork
with our three consultants, Lolmay Pedro Oscar García
Mátzar (Chimaltenango), Juan Esteban Ajsivinac Sian (Patzi-
cía), and Filiberto Patal Majzul (Patzún). The following
abbreviations were used: ABS [absolutive], CL [classifier],
CP [completive], DET [determiner], ERG [ergative], IC
1226 D. Yasunaga et al.
Downloaded by [Tohoku University] at 18:41 18 October 2015
[incompletive], POS [possessive], pl [plural], sg [singular],
1 [first person], 3 [third person], PM [plural marker].
2. The discourse-pragmatic requirement for derived word orders
is related to their syntactic complexity. As derived word orders
are associated with syntactically complex structures and are
therefore more difficult to process, the language user would
take the trouble to employ them only to achieve a specific goal.
3. Results of a word order acquisition study in Kaqchikel (Sugi-
saki, Otaki, Yusa, & Koizumi, 2014) suggest that Kaqchikel-
speaking three-year-old children know that VOS is the
unmarked order in their language. Also, Pye (1992) showed
that in Kiche, a Mayan language closely related to Kaqchi-
kel, children acquire the VOS order early.
4. The aural rather than visual presentation method was used
because the Kaqchikel language is mainly used in daily con-
versations rather than in written form, and Kaqchikel speakers
generally are not accustomed to reading Kaqchikel.
5. In the present paper, we are using the names of grammatical
functions such as subject and object to refer to different
word orders. As far as the transitive sentences used in the
experiment are concerned, subject and object are equivalent
to agent and patient in terms of thematic roles.
6. The highest accuracy for VOS shows that our participants had
no difficulty accepting VOS sentences as declaratives rather
than interrogatives.
7. As mentioned in Section 3, Kaqchikel is a pro-drop language.
Cross-linguistically, there appears to be a tendency for subject-
drop to occur more frequently than object-drop, and the same
seems to be the case in Kaqchikel. Thus, expectations for an
object following the verb might be higher than for a subject,
independent of basic word order. If so, this could be an
additional source for the repair P600 elicited to V
SO relative
to V
OS. We would like to thank a reviewer for pointing out
this possibility. Relatedly, the P600 here might be at least par-
tially due to the absolutive agreement morpheme on the verb,
which triggers the insertion of a gap associated with the object
upon encountering the subject in VSO.
8. We are grateful to a reviewer and the editor for suggesting to us
that we should carry out this comparison.
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... In particular, in terms of this word order preference, it is important to investigate those that we call "OS-type languages," in which the object comes before the subject in their underlying basic word order. Koizumi et al. (2014) conducted one of the few studies investigating the nature of the SO preference, using an OS-type language (see also Kiyama et al. 2013;Yasunaga et al. 2015). They examined the word order preference in Kaqchikel, a Mayan language spoken in Guatemala. ...
... Instead, they suggest that syntactic properties of a given language greatly affect the processing cost in sentence comprehension, and note that it took more time for native speakers of Kaqchikel to process sentences with non-canonical word orders, like that in (4b). Yasunaga et al. (2015) also observed a similar effect in their event-related potential (ERP) study. Comparing the SVO and VOS sentences, the object in SVO word order sentences elicited a P600 effect, suggesting that SVO sentences are more costly than VOS sentences. ...
... These interpretations of the results suggest that the often-observed SO preference is not a universal feature of language (Koizumi and Kim 2016;Koizumi et al. 2014;Kiyama et al. 2013;Yasunaga et al. 2015;Yano et al. 2017Yano et al. , 2019. The SO preference has been observed in the sentence processing literature, and, most of the time, the SO-type languages are the targets of investigation. ...
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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.
... However, this hypothesis cannot explain the preference for canonical word orders in languages in which an S follows an O, such as Kaqchikel (a Mayan language spoken in Guatemala) and Truku Seediq (an Austronesian language spoken in Taiwan). Previous behavioural and ERP experiments have found that canonical VOS order incurred a lower processing cost compared to that of non-canonical word orders, such as SVO and VSO in Kaqchikel (Koizumi et al., 2014;Koizumi & Kim, 2016;Yano, Yasunaga, & Koizumi, 2017;Yasunaga, Yano, Yasugi, & Koizumi, 2015). Moreover, an ERP experiment found a larger P600 effect for the non-canonical SVO than the canonical VOS, irrespective of agent-patient order (i.e. ...
... At NP2, O NEW S GIVEN V elicited a larger posterior positivity compared to S NEW O GIVEN , whereas no indication exists of a positivity in response to O GIVEN S NEW V. The former result is consistent with previous studies on scrambling in Japanese Koso, Hagiwara, & Soshi, 2007;Ueno & Kluender, 2003), as well as those on filler-gap dependency in other languages (Fiebach et al., 2001;Fiebach et al., 2005;Kaan et al., 2000;Phillips et al., 2005;Rösler et al., 1998;Yasunaga et al., 2015;, Yano, iikuni, et al., 2017. The positivity for O NEW S GIVEN V began to diverge from S NEW O GIVEN V earlier than typical P600 effects. ...
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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]
... The reliability of this phenomenon in well-studied languages, however, does not mean that the phenomenon is universal. For example, examinations of languages with basic word order in which the object precedes the subject have shown an opposite effect -an increased cognitive load for subject-first sentences, indicating that sentence-processing load is conditional upon syntactic parameters of the language being processed (Yasunaga et al., 2015). ...
... Even though the subject preference prediction has been attested across multiple languages, including Basque (Erdocia et al., 2009), German (Rösler et al., 1998), Japanese (Ueno and Kluender, 2003), investigations of less-studied languages indicate that subject preference is constrained by the basic syntactic parameters of the language. For example, Yasunaga et al. (2015) has shown that in a language with free word order, but basic VOS structure (Kaqchikel, a Mayan language spoken in Guatemala), sentences in which subject precedes object, though frequent, incur a higher cognitive load than sentences with object preceding the subject. Thus, the minimal-effort processing strategy appears to be constrained by the basic syntactic structure of the language. ...
Article
Research on spoken languages has identified a "subject preference" processing strategy for tackling input that is syntactically ambiguous as to whether a sentence-initial NP is a subject or object. The present study documents that the "subject preference" strategy is also seen in the processing of a sign language, supporting the hypothesis that the "subject"-first is universal and not dependent on the language modality (spoken vs. signed). Deaf signers of Austrian Sign Language (ÖGS) were shown videos of locally ambiguous signed sentences in SOV and OSV word orders. Electroencephalogram (EEG) data indicated higher cognitive load in response to OSV stimuli (i.e. a negativity for OSV compared to SOV), indicative of syntactic re-analysis cost. A finding that is specific to the visual modality is that the ERP (event-related potential)-effect reflecting linguistic reanalysis occurred earlier than might have been expected, that is, before the time point when the path movement of the disambiguating sign was visible. We suggest that in the visual modality, transitional movement of the articulators prior to the disambiguating verb position or co-occurring non-manual (face/body) markings were used in resolving the local ambiguity in ÖGS. Thus, whereas the processing strategy of "subject preference" is cross-modal at the linguistic level, the cues that enable the processor to apply that strategy differ in signing as compared to speech.
... According to García Matzar and Rodríguez Guaján (1997), among others, the basic word order of Kaqchikel is VOS, as exemplified in (2a), with neither the subject nor the object topicalized or focused (Rodríguez Guaján 1994: 200, García Matzar and Rodríguez Guaján 1997: 333, Tichoc Cumes et al. 2000: 195, Ajsivinac Sian et al. 2004. For psycho/neuro-linguistic evidence of VOS being syntactically basic in Kaqchikel, see Koizumi et al. 2014, Yasunaga et al. 2015, Koizumi and Kim 2016 1 Unless otherwise noted, the description of Kaqchikel grammar in this paper is based on our fieldwork with three native consultants, Lolmay Pedro Oscar García Mátzar (Chimaltenango), Juan Esteban Ajsivinac Sian (Patzicía), and Filiberto Patal Majzul (Patzún). 2017, among others). ...
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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
... The behavioral result of Experiment 1 is similar to the result of a previous experiment using the same task in Kaqchikel, a Mayan language spoken in Guatemala (Yano et al. 2017; see also Yasunaga et al. 2015). In Kaqchikel, VOS is a syntactically basic order and other orders, including SVO, VSO, and OVS, are derived through the movement of DPs. ...
Article
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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.
... Although the subject preference has been attested in a number of different languages, it seems to be restricted to languages with basic word order in which the subject precedes the object. For instance, for a language with basic VOS order (Kaqchikel, a Mayan language spoken in Guatemala) the opposite effect has been shown: increased processing costs for sentences in which the subject precedes the object in contrast to sentences with object preceding the subject (Yasunaga, Yano, Yasugi, & Koizumi, 2015). ...
Article
Full-text available
The preference of the human parser for interpreting syntactically ambiguous sentence-initial arguments as the subject of a clause (i.e. subject preference) has been documented for spoken and sign languages. Recent research (He, Y. [2016]. Interactive processing within and beyond sentence-level: An ERP investigation of simple and complex Chinese sentences (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Mainz, Mainz) suggests that the subject preference can be eliminated by manipulating information structure (topicalisation). To investigate the effects of interaction between syntax and information structure on language processing, we tested the role of topic marking in sentence processing in Austrian Sign Language (ÖGS). We examined whether non-manual topic marking on the sentence-initial argument eliminates the subject preference using event-related brain potentials. We replicated the finding of the subject preference in ÖGS by identifying an N400-family response to object-first sentences. Further, topic marking in ÖGS influenced the processing of the topic argument itself and later processing stages. This suggests that interpretation of topic marking imposes additional processing costs, relative to syntactic reanalysis.
... Thus, some authors argue that Kaqchikel basic word order is shifting or has already shifted to SVO as canonical word order (Brown et al. 2006;Kim 2011). Interestingly, however, even in modern Kaqchikel, VOS word orders result in less processing costs than SVO in fMRI and ERP studies (Koizumi et al. 2014;Yasunaga et al. 2015;Koizumi and Kim 2016;Yano et al. 2017). ...
Article
Full-text available
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.
... Sentence comprehension studies with behavioural indices (Kiyama, Tamaoka, Kim, & Koizumi, 2013;Koizumi et al., 2014), fMRI (Koizumi & Kim, 2016), and ERPs (Yano, Yasunaga, & Koizumi, 2017;Yasunaga, Yano, Yasugi, & Koizumi, 2015) have all observed that the syntactically basic VOS is easier to process than SVO and other derived word orders in Kaqchikel. Despite the fact that VOS is the syntactically basic word order and the easiest to understand among grammatically possible word orders in Kaqchikel, it is the SVO order that is most frequently used in this language (England, 1991;Kubo, Ono, Tanaka, Koizumi, & Sakai, 2015;Maxwell & Little, 2006;Rodríguez Guaján, 1994). ...
Article
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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.
... SLAN has been proposed to reflect the processes of actively maintaining a filler in the working memory (e.g., Kaan et al. 2000;Ueno & Kluender 2003;Erdocia et al. 2009). The P600 effect is interpreted as a reflection of the syntactic processing cost for reconstructing a filler into its gap (Rösler et al. 1998;Kaan et al. 2000;Ueno & Kluender 2003;Phillips et al. 2006;Hagiwara et al. 2007;Erdocia et al. 2009;Yasunaga et al. 2015). ...
Article
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The present study tested whether the D-linked object moves from its thematic position over the subject or it originates where it appears in non-canonical sentences in Japanese. To this aim, we conducted acceptability judgment experiments that employed island effects as a diagnosis of movement and assessed whether the D-linking status of an extracted object of non-canonical OSV sentences escaped island effects. The results revealed that D-linking did not improve an acceptability of island violations, and therefore, a D-linked object of OSV does have a status of a moved constituent. The present result contributes to an understanding of a relationship between syntactic representation and processing of filler-gap dependencies. According to recent event-related brain potential (ERP) studies, non-canonical sentences with a filler-gap dependency elicits a P600 effect when there is no felicitous context, but they do not reveal any effect when the filler is discourse-old information. The present result is inconsistent with the interpretation that the D-linked filler does not have a status of a moved constituent, thereby resulting in no filler-gap dependency formation in Japanese sentence comprehension. Instead, the present result is consistent with the view that the P600 effect is not a neural cost of the reconstruction but is elicited by other cognitive processes, such as the resolution of the unsatisfied presupposition encoded by scrambling.
... However, more empirical data needs to be accumulated to test this view. Koso et al., 2007;Ueno & Kluender, 2003), as well as those on filler-gap dependency in other languages (Fiebach et al., 2001;Kaan et al., 2000;Phillips et al., 2005;Rösler et al., 1998;Yasunaga et al., 2015;Yano et al., 2017aYano et al., , 2017b. The positivity for O NEW S GIVEN V began to diverge from S NEW O GIVEN V earlier than typical P600 effects. ...
Article
Full-text available
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]