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Interaction Between Syntactic Structure and Information Structure in the Processing of a Head-Final Language

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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.
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J Psycholinguist Res (2017) 46:247–260
DOI 10.1007/s10936-016-9433-3
Interaction Between Syntactic Structure and Information
Structure in the Processing of a Head-Final Language
Masatoshi Koizumi1·Satoshi Imamura2
Published online: 26 May 2016
© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016
Abstract 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.
Keywords Discourse context ·Incremental processing ·Japanese ·Processing load ·Syntax
Introduction
It has often been argued in the psycholinguistics literature that sentences with noncanonical
word orders are inherently more difficult to process than those with canonical word orders
because the former are syntactically more complex and, hence, computationally more costly
to represent than the latter (see, e.g., Frazier and Flores d’Arcais 1989;De Vincenzi 1991;
Rösler et al. 1998;Weyerts et al. 2002;Ueno and Kluender 2003;Tamaoka et al. 2005;
Hagiwara et al. 2007;Kim et al. 2009;Koizumi et al. 2014;Yasunaga et al. 2015). Some
researchers have also noted that the use of noncanonical structures is motivated by discourse-
pragmatic factors. In particular, studies of sentence comprehension reveal that given-new
ordered sentences (i.e., sentences in which given information is mentioned early and new
BMasatoshi Koizumi
masatoshi.koizumi.a4@tohoku.ac.jp
1Department of Linguistics, Graduate School of Arts and Letters, Tohoku University, 27-1 Kawauchi
Aoba-ku, Sendai 980-8576, Japan
2Research Centre for Japanese Language and Linguistics, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
123
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... This filler-gap dependency is lacking in canonical SOV sentences. Koizumi and Imamura (2017) ran a self-paced reading experiment using the same factorial manipulation as Kaiser and Trueswell (2004) (i.e. supportive/ non-supportive × canonical/non-canonical word order). ...
... 5 Importantly, O GIVEN S NEW V did not show a larger positivity even in the typical P600 time-window. This result of the WO by context interaction is consistent with the behavioural result by Koizumi and Imamura (2017). ...
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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]
... This filler-gap dependency is lacking in canonical SOV sentences. Koizumi and Imamura (2017) ran a self-paced reading experiment using the same factorial manipulation as Kaiser and Trueswell (2004) (i.e. supportive/ non-supportive × canonical/non-canonical word order). ...
... 5 Importantly, O GIVEN S NEW V did not show a larger positivity even in the typical P600 time-window. This result of the WO by context interaction is consistent with the behavioural result by Koizumi and Imamura (2017). ...
... In Japanese, for example, syntactically canonical SOV sentences have simpler syntactic structures than syntactically derived OSV sentences (Hoji, 1985;Saito, 1985). SOV sentences may be used in pragmatically neutral contexts, in contrast to OSV sentences, which are typically produced when the referent of the object is discourse-given (Kuno, 1978;Imamura and Koizumi, 2011;Koizumi and Imamura, 2016). The production frequency of SOV is higher than that of OSV (97.2 vs. 2.8%, respectively, according to Imamura and Koizumi, 2011). ...
... The production frequency of SOV is higher than that of OSV (97.2 vs. 2.8%, respectively, according to Imamura and Koizumi, 2011). Together, these three factors seem to make SOV sentences easier to process than OSV sentences in Japanese (Koizumi and Imamura, 2016). ...
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Cortical activations during the processing of Kaqchikel transitive sentences with canonical and non-canonical word orders were investigated using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Kaqchikel is an endangered Mayan language spoken in Guatemala. The word order in this language is relatively flexible. We observed higher cortical activations in the left inferior frontal gyrus for sentences with the subject-verb-object (SVO) word order, as compared to sentences with the verb-object-subject (VOS) word order, suggesting that Kaqchikel sentences are easier to process when they have the VOS order than when they have the SVO order. This supports the traditional analysis of Mayan word order: the syntactically simplest word order of transitive sentences in Mayan languages, including Kaqchikel, is VOS. More importantly, the results revealed that the subject-before-object word order preference in sentence comprehension, previously observed in other languages, might not reflect a universal aspect of human languages. Rather, processing preference may be language-specific to some extent, reflecting syntactic differences in individual languages.
... Japanese employs SOV and OSV; all the six logically possible orders are actually used in Finnish; and so on. It has been observed, in many flexible as well as rigid word order languages, that the syntactically basic word order is easier to process than the other grammatically possible word orders (derived word orders) (Bader & Meng, 1999 for German, Kaiser & Trueswell, 2004 for Finnish, Kim, 2012 for Korean, Mazuka, Itoh, &Kondo, 2002 andTamaoka et al., 2005 for Japanese, Sekerina, 1997for Russian, Tamaoka, Kanduboda, & Sakai, 2011. 1 In Japanese, for example, sentences with the syntactically basic SOV order are processed faster than comparable OSV sentences according to various psycholinguistic studies using sentence plausibility judgment tasks (Chujo, 1983;Tamaoka et al., 2005), self-paced reading (Koizumi & Imamura, 2017;Shibata et al., 2006), and eye tracking (Mazuka et al., 2002;Tamaoka et al., 2005). Neurolinguistic studies have also shown a similar processing advantage of the syntactically basic word order. ...
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... 5 Importantly, O GIVEN S NEW V did not show a larger positivity even in the typical P600 time-window. This result of the WO by context interaction is consistent with the behavioural result by Koizumi and Imamura (2016). ...
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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]
... Bader & Meng, 1999 for German; Kaiser & Trueswell, 2004 for Finnish;Kim, 2012 for Korean, Mazuka, Itoh, & Kondo, 2002;and Tamaoka et al., 2005 for Japanese; Sekerina, 1997 for Russian; Tamaoka et al., 2011 for Sinhalese). The SO word order is processed faster than OS word orders, according many psycholinguistic studies using selfpaced reading (Koizumi & Imamura, 2016) and eye-tracking (Mazuka et al., 2002). Neurolinguistics studies also have showed a similar SO processing preference. ...
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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.
... Although a body of research concerns the comprehension of scrambled sentences in Japanese (Koizumi and Tamaoka, 2010;Koizumi and Imamura, 2016, among many), the production counterpart has not been investigated to the same extent. Previous findings suggest that (i) Japanese speakers tend to put a longer object before a short subject via scrambling (Yamashita and Chang, 2001), (ii) tend to produce the same structure as the prime sentence , (iii) are more likely to position animate entities earlier in the sentence than inanimate entities independent of their grammatical role and assign the subject role to animate entities (Tanaka et al., 2011), and (iv) tend to produce given arguments before new, where this effect is stronger when the previous mention of the given argument is lexically identical (Ferreira and Yoshita, 2003). ...
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