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Syntax and processing in Seediq: An event-related potential study

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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.
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Syntax and processing in Seediq: an event-related potential
study
Masataka Yano
1
·Keiyu Niikuni
2
·Hajime Ono
3
·Manami Sato
4
·
Apay Ai-yu Tang
5
·Masatoshi Koizumi
6,7
Received: 1 August 2018 / Accepted: 14 October 2019 / Published online: 27 November 2019
©The Author(s) 2019
Abstract 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
&Masataka Yano
masayano@kyudai.jp
Masatoshi Koizumi
koizumi@tohoku.ac.jp
1
Faculty of Humanities, Kyushu University, Fukuoka, Japan
2
Department of Clinical Psychology, Niigata Seiryo University, Niigata, Japan
3
Faculty of Arts, Tsuda University, Tokyo, Japan
4
Department of British and American Language and Culture, Okinawa International University,
Okinawa, Japan
5
Department of Indigenous Language and Communication, National Dong Hwa University,
Hualien, Taiwan
6
Department of Linguistics, Graduate School of Arts and Letters, Tohoku University, Sendai,
Japan
7
National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics, Tokyo, Japan
123
Journal of East Asian Linguistics (2019) 28:395–419
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10831-019-09200-9(0123456789().,-volV)(0123456789().,-volV)
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
a greater processing load when there was supportive context and the discourse
requirement was satisfied. We interpreted these results as evidence that the pro-
cessing difficulty of the non-basic word order in Seediq is associated with a
discourse-level processing difficulty.
Keywords Word order · Syntactic complexity · Conceptual accessibility ·
Discourse · Seediq · Event-related brain potentials
1 Introduction
In many languages with subject-before-object as a syntactically basic word order,
transitive sentences in which the subject precedes the object (SO) have been reported
to have a processing advantage during sentence comprehension compared with those
in which the subject follows the object (OS) (Bader and Meng 1999 for German;
Kaiser and Trueswell 2004 for Finnish; Kim 2012 for Korean; Koizumi and Imamura
2017; Mazuka et al. 2002; Tamaoka et al. 2005 for Japanese; Sekerina 1997 for
Russian; Tamaoka et al. 2011 for Sinhalese).
1
For example, previous event-related
potential (ERP) experiments showed that OS sentences elicit a late positivity effect,
called a P600 effect, and/or a (sustained) left anterior negativity (SLAN) in
comparison with SO sentences (Erdocia et al. 2009 for Basque; Ro
¨sler et al. 1998 for
German; Hagiwara et al. 2007; Ueno and Kluender 2003 for Japanese). ERPs are
electrical brain responses (electroencephalography: EEG) recorded on the scalp,
which are time-locked to an event (e.g., the presentation of a word) and then averaged
across trials/participants (Kutas and Van Petten 1994; Kutas et al. 2006). A P600 is a
positive component with the peak latency of approximately 600 ms post-stimulus.
A SLAN is a long-lasting negativity that appears around the left anterior region of the
scalp. Both ERP components have been interpreted as a reflection of sentence
processing costs. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies have found a
greater activation at the left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG) in the processing of OS word
order in comparison to SO word order (Grewe et al. 2007 for German, Kim et al. 2009;
Kinno et al. 2008 for Japanese).
A possible factor that derives this word order preference is conceptual
accessibility, which is defined as “the ease with which the mental representation
of some potential referent can be activated or retrieved from memory” (Bock and
Warren 1985, 50; Bornkessel-Schlesewsky and Schlesewsky 2009a,b; Kemmerer
2012; Tanaka et al. 2011). In SO languages, a conceptually more accessible agent
precedes a conceptually less accessible patient in basic SO orders, whereas the
opposite order occurs in non-basic OS orders. Several studies have reported that
prominent entities such as an agent, animates, concretes, and prototypicals tend to
appear as sentence-initial subjects (Branigan et al. 2008; cf. Bock and Warren 1985;
Bornkessel-Schlesewsky and Schlesewsky 2009a; Hirsh-Pasek and Golinkoff 1996;
Primus 1999; Slobin and Bever 1982). Accordingly, the SO advantage may be
derived from the preference for agent-patient order.
1
We refer to a word order with the minimum number of derivational steps as a syntactically basic order.
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396 M. Yano et al.
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Another possible source of the SO order preference involves syntactic
complexities of non-basic sentences. Assuming that the dislocated constituent
(filler) is associated with its original position (gap) (Frazier and Clifton 1989), the
storage and integration cost should increase in OS sentences of SO languages
(Gibson 1998,2000). This hypothesis has been supported by ERP experiments. As
mentioned above, OS sentences elicit a sustained left anterior negativity (SLAN)
from a filler to its gap, followed by a P600 effect at the gap position. SLAN and
P600 have been proposed to reflect the processes of actively maintaining a filler in
the working memory and syntactically integrating it with its original position,
respectively (e.g., Erdocia et al. 2009; Kaan et al. 2000; Ueno and Kluender 2003).
These two hypotheses focus on sentence-internal features of non-basic sentences
to account for the SO preference. However, the word order preference may also
pertain to discourse factors because the felicitous use of non-basic word orders
correlates with discourse factors, such as givenness, as well as sentence-internal,
non-syntactic factors, such as heaviness of displaced constituents (e.g., Aissen 1992;
Birner and Ward 2009; Kuno 1987, inter alia). In other words, basic word order is a
default option to describe an event and occurs in a wide range of contexts, whereas
non-basic word order is a marked choice, and its use must be well-motivated. This
issue has been discussed in Kaiser and Trueswell (2004) (Clifton and Frazier 2004;
Grodner et al. 2005; Meng et al. 1999; Sekerina 2003). They conducted a self-paced
reading experiment to examine the processing of the non-basic OVS order in
Finnish (an SVO language) with two types of context, as shown in (1) below. The
supportive context in (1a) referred to an O of the target sentences in (2) to license a
felicitous use of OVS, in which the O must be discourse-old information in Finnish,
whereas the non-supportive context in (1b) did not. The result showed a significant
interaction at DP2 (“hare-PART” and “mouse-NOM”), due to a longer reading time in
OVS than in SVO, only in the non-supportive context.
(1) Context
Lotta etsi eilen sienia
¨metsa
¨ssa
¨.
Lotta looked-for yesterday mushrooms forest-in
Ha
¨n huomasi heinikossa (a)ja
¨niksen/(b)hiiren joka
She-NOM noticed grass-in hare-ACC/mouse-ACC that
liikkui varovasti eteenpa
¨in.
was.moving carefully forward.
“Lotta looked for mushrooms in the forest yesterday. She noticed {(a)
a hare/(b) a mouse} moving forward carefully in the grass.”
(2) a. SVO
Hiiri seurasi ja
¨nista
¨ja linnut lauloivat.
mouse-NOM followed hare-PART and birds were.singing.
b. OVS
Ja
¨nista
¨seurasi hiiri ja linnut lauloivat.
hare-PART followed mouse-NOM and birds were.singing.
“The mouse followed the hare and birds were singing.”
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Syntax and processing in Seediq 397
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Yano and Koizumi (2018) also examined the effect of context on the processing of
the non-basic OSV order in Japanese (an SOV language). The result of their ERP
experiment showed a larger SLAN and P600 effect for OSV in the non-supportive
context but did not show any ERP effect in the supportive context in comparison to
the basic SOV. In other words, there was no measurable processing cost for OSV
relative to SVO when the supportive context was provided. These results suggest
that the unsatisfied discourse requirement of non-basic sentences may induce a
processing difficulty indexed by SLAN and P600.
In sum, there are three hypotheses that account for the word order preference,
namely, conceptual accessibility (the order of thematic roles), syntactic complexity
(filler-gap dependency), and pragmatic requirement. All of these three hypotheses
can correctly predict an SO preference in SO languages.
The present ERP study examined the effect of these factors on the processing of
SO and OS sentences in an OS language, Seediq. Before turning to the details of our
experiments, we briefly overview Seediq syntax to explain why Seediq provides a
good ground for testing these hypotheses. Although the conceptual accessibility
hypothesis and the syntactic complexity hypothesis both predict the SO preference
in SO languages, as mentioned above, the investigation of Seediq enables us to tease
them apart by examining the ramifications of their respective predictions. It is this
goal that motivates the present study.
1.1 Seediq
Seediq belongs to the Atayalic branch of the Formosan languages (an Austronesian
language). This language has a symmetric voice system, which is also referred to as
a focus system. In transitive sentences in the Actor Voice (AV), the subject is an
agent or experiencer, whereas the patient or location is projected as a subject in the
Goal Voice (GV), as exemplified in (3a) and (3b), respectively. In the Convey Voice
(CV), the subject refers to an instrument or beneficiary, as in (3c) (CV is irrelevant
for the present study). These voice alternations are distinguished by an affix
attached to the verb.
(3) a. m-egay buNa leqi-‘an ka bubu.
AV-give sweet.potato.DIR child-OBL NOM mother
2
“The mother gave sweet potato to a/the child.”
b. biq-an buNa bubu ka laqi.
give-GV sweet.potato.DIR mother.GEN NOM child
c. se-begay bubu leqi-‘an ka buNa.
CV-give mother.GEN child-OBL NOM sweet.potato
(Tsukida 2009: 158)
2
DIR: directive, OBJ: oblique, NOM: nominative, GEN: genitive.
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398 M. Yano et al.
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Seediq has a syntactically basic word order of VOS, as shown in (4a). The S of VOS is
marked with ‘ka’ (Aldridge 2004,2014; Tsukida 2007,2009).
3
In addition to the basic
VOS order, SVO is also available in Seediq by preposing S over VO, as in (4b).
Evidence that SVO is derived from VOS, but not vice versa comes from syntactic
diagnoses, such as the availability of quantifier floating (Sportiche 1988, Tsukida
2009, 314). The examples in (5a) and (5b) show that VOS and SVO are both
acceptable in the case in which the quantifier “kana” (all) is adjacent to the noun “kiyi-
kuyuh” (women). The SVO sentence in (5c) is also acceptable, in which S is at the
sentence-initial position while the quantifier strands at the sentence-final position.
Assuming that a quantifier and its associate must be in a local relation at the base-
generated position (Sportiche 1988), the acceptable example in (5c) illustrates that S is
base-generated within VP and moves to the sentence-initial position. On the other
hand, the unacceptability of the VOS sentence in (5d) shows that the sentence-initial
position is not the position where S originates. S cannot move to the right with the
quantifier staying at the sentence-initial position. Therefore, VOS is not derived from
SVO. This asymmetry also applies to GV, as shown in (6).
4
(4) a. b-en-arig kumu laqi=na ka patas niyi.
CV.PRF-buy Kumu.GEN child.OBJ=3.GEN NOM book this
5
“Kumu bought this book for her child.”
b. patas niyi ‘u, b-en-arig kumu
book this CNJ CV.PRF-buy kumu.GEN
laqi=na.
child.OBL=3s.GEN
c. *laqi=na ‘u b-en-arig kumu ka
child=3s.GEN CNJ CV.PRF-buy kumu.GEN NOM
patas niyi.
book this (Tsukida 2009: 318)
3
Tsukida (2009) analyzed ‘ka’ as a nominative case, whereas Aldridge (2004) analyzed it as a topic. As
for the derivation of VOS, Aldridge (2004) proposed that VOS is derived through the movement of the
absolutive nominal (nominative nominal in the nominative-accusative analysis) to a higher position
followed by the remnant TP fronting, whereas Holmer (1996) and Chang (1997) posited a right specifier
position of IP/AgrP. These analyses do not affect the interpretation of VOS as a syntactically basic order
with the minimum number of derivational steps.
4
The acceptability of the sentences in (5b–d) and (6b–d) is based on our two informants, who are native
speakers of Truku Seediq and naı
¨ve to the purpose of the present study and linguistics.
5
PRF: perfect, CNJ: conjunction. Tsukida (2009, p. 336) used CNJ for ‘u’ because it is also used to
conjoin clauses.
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Syntax and processing in Seediq 399
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(5) a. ga h-em-aNut siyaN ka kana kiyi-kuyuh.
PRG AV-cook pork-OBL NOM all PL-woman
(Tsukida 2009, 314)
“All the women are cooking pork.”
b. kana kiyi-kuyh ‘u, ga h-em-aNut siyaN.
all PL-woman CNJ PRG AV-cook pork-OBL
c. kiyi-kuyh ‘u, ga h-em-aNut siyaN. kana.
PL-woman CNJ PRG AV-cook pork-OBL all
d. * kana ga h-em-aNut siyaN ka kiyi-kuyh.
all PRG AV-cook pork-OBL NOM PL-woman
(6) a. heNed-un=deha ka semka siyaN. (Tsukida 2009, 314)
cook-GV=3p.GEN NOM half pork
‘They will cook half of the pork’
b. siyaN ‘u, heNed-un=deha semka.
pork CNJ cook-GVl=3p.GEN half
c. semka siyaN ‘u, heNed-un=deha.
half pork CNJ cook-GVl=3p.GEN
d. * semka heNed-un= deha ka siyaN.
half cook-GV=3p.GEN NOM pork
In contras to the availability of the S fronting, non-S arguments are basically not
accessible for extraction, as shown by the ungrammaticality of (4c) above.
6
This
means that, although the sentence-initial DP is not case-marked, it can be
unambiguously analysed as an S in the processing of SVO. Importantly, SVO has a
pragmatic function that topicalizes an S or contrasts it with other relevant objects in
question (Tsukida 2009, p. 336).
1.2 The purpose and prediction of the present study
The present study tested the three hypotheses regarding the processing cost of non-
basic sentences with and without supportive context using ERPs. They offer
different predictions for the processing of SO and OS sentences in Seediq. To assess
the processing cost of sentences, a late positive ERP component called P600 was
used. Previous studies have consistently reported a P600 effect at the gap position of
non-basic sentences compared to basic sentences (Kaan et al. 2000; Phillips et al.
2005; Ueno and Kluender 2003). In the present case, the gap position of the fronted
S is the third region (R3) of SVO (i.e., O of SVO). Thus, a P600 should appear at R3
(i.e., O of S
i
VO t
i
vs. S of VOS). Therefore, R3 is a region of interest for the
syntactic complexity hypothesis. At this region, a second DP is encountered in both
VOS and SVO sentences, which enables the parser to recognise whether a
conceptually more accessible agent precedes a less accessible patient. Accordingly,
6
According to Tsukida (2009), the patient argument can only be extracted from GV sentences, but the
agent argument can be extracted from AV and GV/CV sentences (see Tsukida 2009: 338 for details).
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R3 is also of interest under the conceptual accessibility hypothesis. P600 is also
known to be sensitive to semantic and pragmatic manipulations, including semantic
violations and presupposition accommodation, and a conflict between syntactically
supported interpretation and world knowledge (e.g., Burkhardt 2006; Domaneschi
et al. 2018; Kim and Osterhout 2005; Kutas and Hillyard 1980; Van Petten and
Luka 2012). Since the fronted constituents, such as S of SVO, should be a topic
(discourse-old information) in Seediq, P600 could reflect a non-syntactic processing
cost when the supportive context was not provided, as will be investigated in
Experiment 1. R1 and R2 were not compared because the comparison between SVO
and VOS involves a number of differences, including grammatical category,
frequency, the number of phonemes, and the number of morphemes.
If the processing load reflects the cost of building a syntactically more complex
representation due to a filler-gap dependency, we expect that SVO is more difficult
to process than VOS because the Seediq parser has to associate the displaced S with
its gap. Concretely, SVO is predicted to elicit a larger P600 than VOS in both AV
and GV, unlike SO languages, which show a P600 for OS sentences.
On the other hand, if the order of thematic roles affects the processing load, we
predict that the agent-patient order would be preferred to the patient-agent order.
Thus, VOS in AV and SVO in GV would be more difficult to process than SVO in
AV and VOS in GV. Statistically speaking, this hypothesis predicts an interaction
between VOICE and WO. To summarize, in contrast to SO languages, the
conceptual accessibility hypothesis and syntactic complexity hypothesis predict a
different result in AV in Seediq. Hence, the result of AV plays an important role in
determining a crucial factor of word order preference in sentence comprehension.
As a third hypothesis, the processing cost of non-basic sentences is likely due to
the lack of supportive context, as demonstrated by Kaiser and Trueswell (2004) and
Yano and Koizumi (2018). If this hypothesis is correct, SVO would be more
difficult to process than VOS in the non-supportive context (Experiment 1).
However, providing supportive context for SVO should ameliorate its processing
cost (Experiment 2).
2 The present study
2.1 Stimuli
The present study examined the preference of word order in Seediq sentence
comprehension using ERPs. To this end, we created four types of sentences by
manipulating Voice (Actor Voice/Goal Voice) and Word Order (VOS/SVO) as
shown in (7) below (192 sentences in total).
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Syntax and processing in Seediq 401
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(7) a. AV-VOS
qmqah emqliyang niyi ka embanah niyi.
kick.AV blue DET NOM red DET
‘The red kicks the blue.’
b. AV-SVO
embanah niyi o qmqah emqliyang niyi.
red DET CNJ kick.AV blue DET
c. GV-VOS
qqahan embanah niyi ka emqliyang niyi.
kick.GV red DET NOM blueDET
d. GV-SVO
emqliyang niyi o qqahan embanah niyi.
blue DET CNJ kick.GV red DET
The sentences are all transitive sentences. Eight transitive verbs were selected that
are commonly used in Truku Seediq and easy to distinguish in pictures (see Fig. 1):
kick (AV: qmqah, GV: qqahan), hit (AV: smipaq, GV: epaqan), push (AV: smikul,
GV: skulan), chase (AV: mhraw, GV: bhragan), throw (AV: qmada, GV: qada), pull
(AV: brbil, GV: bbilan), call (AV: mlawa, GV: plwaan), and scold (AV: msang,
GV: ksengan). The DPs consist of four familiar color terms (embanah ‘red’,
emqliyang ‘blue’, mqalux ‘black’, and bhgay ‘white’) plus a definite article (niyi
‘the’). The abstract noun phrases, such as “the red” and “the blue” were employed
as S and O to avoid a thematic bias for agents or patients (i.e., they are thematically
reversible). If S and O were thematically biased (e.g., The police chased the thief),
participants could guess the event described by a sentence without parsing its
syntactic structure, which should undermine the purpose of the present experiments.
Furthermore, since VOS and SVO sentences were compared at the third region (i.e.,
S of VOS vs. O of SVO), the lexical properties of S and O (e.g., frequency, length)
had to be matched. Common nouns that are thematically reversible and lexically
matched were hard to find, due to the lack of a comprehensive dictionary in Truku
Seediq.
The sentences were recorded by a male native speaker of Truku Seediq. They
were slightly edited by removing a short pause between phrases to match the
duration of the critical region (the third region: R3), the duration from the onset of
R1 to that of R3, and the total duration across four conditions (all ps[0.10) (see
Fig. 1 An example of the
pictures used in Experiments
1 and 2
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Table 1for the duration of each region).
7
The duration of R1 (V in VOS and S +o in
SVO) was significantly longer for SVO than VOS [F(1, 47)=1380.33, p\0.01] and
the duration of R2 (O+ka in VOS and V in SVO) was significantly longer for VOS
than SVO [F(1, 47)=1284.05, p\0.01]. The main effect of VOICE and the two-
way interaction were not significant in any analysis of the duration. After editing
stimuli, they were checked for naturalness by native Seediq speakers.
Because the non-basic SVO in Seediq needs to satisfy discourse requirements for
its use, we conducted two experiments with these materials, manipulating the
presence/absence of context (picture depicting an event) to assess the effect of
contextual support for it. In Experiment 1, the experimental sentences were
presented without a picture to participants, and thus there was no contextual support
for SVO. In Experiment 2, the experimental sentences were preceded by a picture
that rendered DPs discourse-given information to a listener.
2.2 Procedure
In Experiment 1, a sentence was first aurally presented through earphones. During
the sound presentation, participants were instructed to gaze at the fixation presented
in the centre of the screen and to not blink or move. The screen was placed
approximately 100 cm in front of the participants. After a blank screen for 500 ms, a
picture was presented in the centre of the screen, which either matched or
mismatched the event described by the preceding sentence. To check whether the
participants understood the sentences (e.g. The red kicks the blue), the participants
were asked to judge whether the picture was congruent with the sentence and then to
press a ‘YES’ or ‘NO’ button. Half of the sentences were followed by congruent
pictures and half were followed by incongruent pictures. Incongruent pictures
depicted an event in which a different agent was involved (i.e., The white kicks the
blue), a different patient was involved (i.e., The red kicks the white), the agent and
patient were reversed (i.e., The blue kicks the red), or the action was not correct (i.
e., The reds pushes the blue). The pictures were presented until they pressed either
button. The responses were collected using a response pad (Cedrus RB-740).
Table 1 Mean duration (ms) of each phrase (n= 48)
R1 R2 R3 Total
MSDMSDMSDMSD
AV-VOS 793.2 125.4 1715.8 159.2 1211.5 136.9 3786.6 225.9
AV-SVO 1657.5 155.5 834.4 146.5 1257.7 133.8 3805.5 220.5
GV-VOS 823.5 144.5 1720.1 179.5 1249.5 151.8 3850.0 272.5
GV-SVO 1627.3 171.5 854.4 143.8 1251.5 145.6 3797.9 249.2
7
The R1, R2, and R3 each correspond to V, O+ka, and S in VOS, and S +o, V, and O in SVO. Consistent
with Tsukida’s (2009) description, there is a prosodic boundary after ‘ka’ in VO-ka-S and ‘o’ in S–o-VO
in experimental sentences.
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The picture-sentence matching task was employed because the participants were
not able to read or rarely read the Seediq language and therefore it was difficult to
present a comprehension question visually, like in standard ERP experiments.
Although the comprehension question could be given aurally, it took more time and
was burdensome for senior participants and, therefore, we did not employ the
comprehension question.
In Experiment 2, the trial started with a picture presented for 2000 ms in the
centre of the screen. After a blank screen for 200 ms, a sentence was aurally
presented through a speaker.
8
The participants were asked to respond to the task
upon seeing a response cue, which appeared 500 ms after the offset of the sentence.
In Experiment 2, the experimental sentences were always preceded by congruent
pictures. In addition, 48 filler sentences paired with incongruent pictures were
intermixed in the list for NO responses. Although the number of YES/NO responses
was not balanced in Experiment 2, this decision was made to not impose an extra
load on senior participants.
All sentences were presented in a randomized order for each participant, using
Presentation version 16.3 (Neurobehavioral Systems). Prior to the main experiment,
24 practice trials were completed to familiarize participants with the experimental
procedure.
2.3 Participants
In Experiments 1 and 2, 25 and 28 native speakers of Truku Seediq were recruited in
Hualien, Taiwan, respectively (Experiment 1: 18 females and seven males, M =61.6,
SD=12.6; Experiment 2: 20 females and eight males, M = 59.6, SD=10.6). Although
14 of the participants participated in both Experiments 1 and 2, this likely had no
significant impact on results because Experiment 2 was conducted a year after
Experiment 1. All participants were classified as right-handed based on the
Edinburgh handedness inventory (Oldfield 1971), and all had normal or corrected-
to-normal vision. None of them were color-blind and thus could distinguish colors
in pictures to perform the task. Written informed consent was obtained from all
participants prior to each experiment. This study was approved by the Ethics
Committee of the Graduate School of Arts and Letters, Tohoku University.
2.4 Electrophysiological recording
The experiments were conducted in a small non-sound-proofed classroom in
Hualien, Taiwan. Because the room was not shielded, recorded data included power
supply noise, which was removed during pre-processing (see the next section). The
room was air-conditioned throughout the experiments to avoid perspiration artifacts.
EEGs were recorded from 17 Ag electrodes (QuickAmp, Brain Products) located
at F3/4, C3/4, P3/4, O1/2, F7/8, T7/8, P7/8, Fz, Cz, and Pz according to the
8
The method of the presentation has changed because some of the participants of Experiment 1 reported
that they felt uncomfortable about using earphones. This difference may involve a difference of the N1
amplitude between Experiments 1 and 2, which is affected by several factors, such as selective attention
and a sudden change of the sound intensity (Hillyard et al. 1973; Hyde 1997).
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international 10–20 system (Jasper 1958). Additional electrodes were placed below
and to the left of the left eye to monitor horizontal and vertical eye movements. The
online reference was set to the average of all electrodes, and EEGs were re-
referenced offline to the average value of the earlobes. The impedances of all
electrodes were maintained at less than 10 kΩthroughout the experiment. The EEGs
were amplified with a bandpass of DC to 200 Hz, digitized at 1000 Hz.
2.5 Electrophysiological data analysis
In Experiment 1, all congruent and incongruent trials were grouped together
because the participants were not able to predict a (mis)match between a sentence
and its picture while listening to the sentence. In Experiment 2, only the congruent
trials were analyzed (i.e., sentences for YES responses) because the participants
could detect anomalies while listening to sentences in this experiment.
Independent component analysis (ICA) was applied using EEGLAB (Delorme
and Makeig 2004) to reduce artifacts induced by eye and body movements. ICs to
be rejected were selected in an objective way with the toolbox SASICA
(Semiautomatic Selection of Independent Components for Artifact Correction,
Chaumon et al. 2015) (Rejection rate: 29.0% in Experiment 1 and 26.1% in
Experiment 2). EEGs were time-locked to the onset of R3 and the baseline was set
to 100 ms prior to it. Trials with large artifacts (exceeding ±100 µV) were removed
from the analysis (Rejection rate: 1.4% in Experiment 1 and 4.0% in Experiment 2).
All EEGs were filtered offline using a 5 Hz low-pass filter only for presentation
purposes.
9
EEGs that were band-pass filtered at 0.1–30 Hz were used for statistical
analyses.
The ERPs were quantified by calculating the mean amplitude for each participant
relative to the baseline using four time-windows: 100–300 ms, 300–500 ms, 500–
700 ms, and 700–900 ms. The analyses were conducted separately at the midline
(Fz, Cz, and Pz), lateral (F3/4, C3/4, and P3/4), and temporal (F7/8, T3/4, T5/6, and
O1/2) arrays. The midline analysis consisted of repeated measures ANOVAs with
three within-group factors: VOICE (AV/GV) WORD ORDER (WO) (VOS/SVO)
ANTERIORITY. The lateral and temporal analyses involved four within-group
factors: VOICE (AV/GV) WO (VOS/SVO) ANTERIORITY HEMI-
SPHERE. The factors of primary interest were the main effect of WO and its
interaction with VOICE. Because the main effect of ANTERIORITY and
HEMISPHERE which does not involve experimental conditions were of no interest,
we did not report them below. The Greenhouse–Geisser correction was applied for
all effects involving more than one degree of freedom (Greenhouse and Geisser
1959). In these cases, the original degrees of freedom and the corrected pvalue were
reported.
9
This filter setting was employed following an anonymous reviewer’s suggestion.
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Syntax and processing in Seediq 405
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2.6 Results
2.6.1 Behavioral data
The accuracy of the behavioral task was examined in each experiment with three-way
ANOVA: RESPONSE TYPE (RT) (YES/NO) VOICE (AV/GV) WO (VOS/
SVO). In Experiment 1, the effects of RT and WO were significant [RT: YES 91.2%
vs. NO 70.6%, F(1, 24)=26.7, p\0.01; WO: VOS 79.8% vs. SVO 82.05%, F(1, 24)
=7.13, p\0.05] (Fig. 2). The effect of VOICE was marginally significant [AV 82.1%
vs. GV: 79.7%, F(1, 24)=3.63, p= 0.68]. Because the three-way interaction was also
significant [F(1, 24)=4.80, p\0.05], post hoc analyses were conducted at each level
of the RT. For YES responses, the effect of VOICE was significant only at SVO, due to
a higher accuracy rate of AV-SVO than GV-SVO. The effect of WO was significant
only at AV, because of a higher accuracy at AV-SVO than AV-VOS. For NO
responses, none of the effects reached a significant level.
10
In Experiment 2, the effect of RT was significant [YES: 95.9% vs. NO: 85.7%,
F(1, 27)=7.20, p\0.05]. The RT interacted with VOICE [F(1, 27) =13.5, p\
0.05], indicating that the accuracy of AV was significantly higher than that of GV
only in the YES response [F(1, 27) =11.30, p\0.05] and the accuracy of the YES
response was significantly higher than the NO response in AV and marginally
higher in GV [AV: F(1, 27)=11.30, p\0.05; F(1, 27) =3.22, p=0.08]. In
Experiment 2, although the number of YES/NO responses was not balanced, as
mentioned above, the high accuracy of the YES and NO response suggests that our
participants paid enough attention to the content of the sentences.
The response time was not analyzed since the participants’ response was delayed
to avoid the contamination of activities related to the task into the ERPs of R3.
2.6.2 Electrophysiological data
Experiment 1 Figure 3shows the grand average ERPs of R3 in Experiment 1. A
visual inspection suggested that the SVO showed a larger positivity than VOS in
both AV and GV.
The overall flatness of ERPs in Experiment 1 (compared to Experiment 2, see
Fig. 4) is probably because a greater number of ICs were rejected due to blink and
movement-related artifacts in Experiment 1 (29%) than in Experiment 2 (26%).
Furthermore, this may also be related to the fact that the present participants are
senior because previous studies observed a flatter ERP morphology for elderly
adults compared to young adults (Federmeier et al. 2002; Kemmer et al. 2004).
10
The accuracy of the task was higher in Experiment 2 than in Experiment 1, especially for the mismatch
conditions. This may be due to the relative easiness of remembering a picture compared to remembering a
sentence. In Experiment 1, in which the presentation of a sentence is followed by that of a picture, the
participants had to remember a sentence until the presentation of the picture in order to perform the task
accurately, which presumably would have incurred a memory load. In contrast, they did not have to
remember a sentence in Experiment 2 because they were able to judge whether the picture was congruent
with the content of the sentence while listening to the sentence (although actual responses were delayed to
avoid artifacts).
123
406 M. Yano et al.
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Fig. 2 Mean accuracy (%) in the behavioral task. Error bars indicate standard errors
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Syntax and processing in Seediq 407
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The X-axis represents the time duration, and each hash mark represents 100 ms.
The Y-axis represents the voltage, ranging from 3to3μV. Negativity is plotted
upward.
The result of repeated-measures ANOVA revealed a significant effect of WO at
the midline and lateral arrays in the time-window of 100–300 ms, due to a positivity
for SVO compared to VOS (Table 2). At all arrays, the interaction of WO and
ANTERIORITY was significant, indicating a centro-parietal distribution of the
positivity [Cz: F(1, 24)=8.29, p\0.01, Pz: F(1, 24) =10.78, p\0.01, C3/4: F(1,
24)=7.35, p\0.05, P3/4: F(1, 24) =10.06, p\0.01, P7/8: F(1, 24)= 7.21, p\
0.05, O1/2: F(1, 24)=10.96, p\0.01].
At 300–500 ms, a similar positivity was observed in SVO. The effects of WO and
the WOANTERIORITY interaction were significant. Furthermore, the three-way
interaction of VOICEWOANTERIORITY reached a significant level at the
lateral and temporal arrays. The post hoc analyses at each level of VOICE revealed
a greater WO effect at GV than at AV.
At 500–700 ms, the WO effect was only significant at the temporal array, which
also indicates a positivity for SVO [T7/8: F(1, 24) =5.41, p\0.05, P7/8: F(1, 24)=
4.11, p=0.05; O1/2: F(1, 24)= 4.58, p\0.05]. At the lateral array, the interaction of
VOICEWOANTERIORITY was significant. The post hoc analyses showed a
significant WO effect at the right hemisphere only at AV [F(1, 24)=7.46, p\0.05].
Fig. 3 Grand average ERPs at R3 in Experiment 1
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408 M. Yano et al.
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At 700–900 ms, the WOHEMISPHERE interaction was significant at the
lateral array. The post hoc analyses showed a positivity for SVO at the right
hemisphere [F(1, 24)=5.05, p\0.05]. In addition, the interaction of VOICE
WOANTERIORITY was significant at the lateral array, showing a WO effect at
the right hemisphere only at AV [F(1, 24)=12.43, p\0.01].
In sum, SVO elicited a significant positivity in comparison with VOS,
irrespective of voice alternation. The peak latency of the positivity was early (M
=472 ms, SD= 153 ms).
11
This is probably because the repeated presentation of DPs
(i.e., four color terms+definite article) facilitated lexico-semantic processing and
the subsequent process started earlier. The positivity prolonged compared typical
P600 effects in reading experiments, because of larger variation of available
information in the time-course of auditory stimuli. However, the positivity was
distributed at the centro-parietal regions, where the typical P600 has been observed.
We took this positivity as a type of P600 that has been observed in non-basic
sentences. As an anonymous reviewer pointed out, it is possible that the positivity
reflects a summation of different types of ERPs because its topography changed
during the time-windows of interest. This issue awaits further investigation because
Fig. 4 Grand average ERPs at R3 in Experiment 2
11
The mean peak latency of the positivity was calculated for each channel with the ERP Measurement
Tool of ERPLAB (Lopez-Calderon and Luck, 2014) by finding a latency in which the greatest positivity
was observed between 100 and 1000 ms.
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Table 2 Statistical results (Fvalues with degrees of freedom in parentheses) for the R3 in Experiment 1
100–300 ms 300–500 ms
Midline Lateral Temporal Midline Lateral Temporal
VOICE (V)
WORD ORDER (WO) 5.29
(1, 24)*
4.49
(1, 24)*
3.94
(1, 24)
+
5.26
(1, 24)*
4.41
(1, 24)*
5.25
(1, 24)*
VANTERIORITY
(ANT)
WO ANT 21.10
(2, 48)***
36.26
(2, 48)***
11.10
(3, 72)***
9.85
(2, 48)**
19.73
(2, 48)***
11.28
(3, 72)***
VWO 4.54
(1, 24)*
4.69
(1, 24)*
3.86
(1, 24)
+
VWO ANT 3.88
(2, 48)*
2.64
(3, 72)
+
3.00
(2, 48)
+
7.07
(2, 48)**
4.14
(3, 72)**
VHEMISPHERE
(HEM)
WO HEM
VANT HEM
WO ANT HEM 2.81
(3, 72)
+
VWO HEM
VWO ANT HEM
500–700 ms 700–900 ms
Midline Lateral Temporal Midline Lateral Temporal
VOICE (V)
WORD ORDER (WO) 4.26
(1, 24)**
4.68
(1, 24)*
VANTERIORITY
(ANT)
WO ANT 6.15
(2, 48)*
7.89
(2, 48)**
4.87
(3, 72)*
3.18
(2, 48)
+
VWO
VWO ANT 3.10
(2, 48)
+
7.09
(2, 48)**
2.89
(3, 72)
+
4.49
(2, 48)*
VHEMISPHERE
(HEM)
WO HEM 11.55
(1, 24)**
8.84
(1, 24)**
VANT HEM
WO ANT HEM
VWO HEM
VWO ANT HEM
+
p\.10, *p \.05, **p \.01, ***p \.005
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410 M. Yano et al.
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the topographical difference of ERP effects is not so informative as to the function
of underlying cognitive processes.
12
Experiment 2 Figure 4shows the grand average ERPs of R3 in Experiment 2. A
visual inspection suggested no comparable positivity for SOV relative to VOS.
The X-axis represents the time duration, and each hash mark represents 100 ms.
The Y-axis represents the voltage, ranging from 3to3μV. Negativity is plotted
upward
In the time-window of 100–300 ms, repeated-measures ANOVA showed a
significant four-way interaction at the lateral array, due to a greater positivity for
AV sentences than GV sentences at P4 [P4: F(1, 29) =5.05, p\0.05] (Table 3). In
the 300–500 ms time-window, none of the effects of interest was observed.
At 500–700 ms, although the interaction of VOICE WOANTERIORITY was
significant at the midline array and that of WOANTERIORITYHEMISPHERE was
significant at the lateral array, none of the simple effects reached a significant level.
At 700–900 ms, the VOICE effect was significant at the midline array, indicating
a larger positivity for the AV sentences than the GV sentences. The post hoc
analyses of the significant interaction of WO ANTERIORITYHEMISPHERE at
the lateral array showed a larger negativity for SVO at F3 and P3/4 [F3: F(1, 27)=
5.64, p\0.05; P3/4: F(1, 27)=4.35, p\0.05]. This effect can also be interpreted
as a larger positivity for VOS than SVO. Further investigation is required to decide
how to interpret this effect.
3 Discussion
The present study conducted two ERP experiments to examine the effect of word
order, voice, and discourse factors on Seediq sentence comprehension. More
concretely, we tested three hypotheses that have been proposed to explain word
order preference in the SO languages. The result of Experiment 1 showed that,
unlike SO language speakers, native Seediq speakers preferred VOS (OS word
order) to SVO (SO word order) when there was no supportive context for the non-
basic SVO. Experiment 2 demonstrated that the supportive context significantly
alleviated the processing difficulty indexed by a P600 effect.
3.1 Word order preference in Seediq sentence comprehension
The result of Experiment 1 is not consistent with the results expected by the
conceptual accessibility hierarchy (agent-patient order). This hypothesis correctly
predicts a VOS preference in GV because the agent precedes the patient in GV-VOS
(VO
AGENT
S
PATIENT
). However, it fails to explain the VOS preference in AV
(VO
PATIENT
S
AGENT
) because it predicts an opposite pattern. Contrary to the
prediction that SVO would be favored over VOS in AV, the ERP evidence suggests
that VOS was easier to process than SVO.
12
We appreciate the reviewer’s valuable comment.
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Table 3 Statistical results (Fvalues with degrees of freedom in parentheses) for the R3 in Experiment 2
100–300 ms 300–500 ms
Midline Lateral Temporal Midline Lateral Temporal
VOICE (V) 3.80
(1, 27)
+
4.08
(1, 27)
+
WORD ORDER (WO)
VANTERIORITY (ANT) 3.31
(2, 54)
+
3.42
(2, 54)
+
WO ANT
VWO
VWO ANT
VHEMISPHERE (HEM) 2.91
(1, 27)
+
WO HEM
VANT HEM 2.25
(3, 81)
+
WO ANT HEM
VWO HEM 3.22
(1, 27)
+
VWO ANT HEM 3.31
(2, 54)*
500–700 ms 700–900 ms
Midline Lateral Temporal Midline Lateral Temporal
VOICE (V) 4.73
(1, 27)*
3.86
(1, 27)
+
WORD ORDER (WO)
VANTERIORITY (ANT) 2.62
(2, 54)
+
WO ANT
VWO
VWO ANT 3.75
(2, 54)*
3.14
(2, 54)
+
2.66
(2, 54)
+
VHEMISPHERE (HEM)
WO HEM 3.14
(1, 27)
+
3.28
(1, 27)
+
VANT HEM
WO ANT HEM 3.26
(2, 54)*
5.09
(2, 54)**
VWO HEM
VWO ANT HEM
+
p\.10, *p \.05, **p \.01, ***p \.005
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412 M. Yano et al.
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One might think that a greater WO effect for GV than AV at 300–500 ms in
Experiment 1 is consistent with the hypothesis. If one speculates that the preference
for the agent-patient order interacted with another factor, syntactic complexity,
these two factors are expected to affect the processing in opposing directions in AV
(agent-patient preference for S
AGNET
VO
PATIENT
and syntactic preference for VOS)
but in the same direction in GV (agent-patient and syntactic preference for
VO
AGENT
S
PATIENT
). Hence, this hybrid hypothesis predicts a greater WO effect at
GV compared to AV. However, the WO effect at GV was not as robust and the
analyses of subsequent time-windows showed a greater WO effect for AV.
Furthermore, the hypothesis cannot explain why no word order preference existed in
Experiment 2, in which contextual information was provided for the felicitous use
of SVO.
The syntactic complexity hypothesis aligns well with the result of Experiment 1.
In SVO, the Seediq parser was expected to associate a fronted S with its gap
following an O at R3. Thus, this hypothesis was borne out by a positivity in
response to SVO in AV and GV. However, this hypothesis also likely fails to
account for the result of Experiment 2, in which we did not observe a positivity for
SVO, unlike in Experiment 1.
One might think that because the participants could predict a sentence upon
seeing a picture in Experiment 2, they could predictively associate an S and its gap,
resulting in the lack of the positivity at R3. This possibility leads one to expect a
positivity at R1 or R2 of SVO, but since SVO and VOS involve a categorical
difference at these regions, they are difficult to compare. However, we believe that
this possibility is unlikely because previous studies have consistently shown a
positivity at the gap position despite the parser being able to predict a gap position
prior to it. For example, in the processing of English object relative clauses and wh-
questions (Kaan et al. 2000; Phillips et al. 2005), the parser can posit an O gap upon
encountering an overt S. This idea is supported by an observation that the parser
predicts a transitive verb that hosts a filler as its O but does not predict an
intransitive verb (despite the fact that an intransitive verb can follow the S, such as
in ‘The book that the author chatted regularly about ’, Omaki et al. 2015).
Additionally, in non-basic OSV sentences in Japanese, the parser can posit an O gap
when reading an initial word of the S (e.g., ‘sono’in‘sore-o
i
sono inochishirazuno
bokenka-ga __
i
mitsuketa-ndesu-ka’, that-ACC
i
the reckless adventure-NOM finally
__
i
discovered-POL-Q. Did the reckless adventurer finally discover that?). To our
knowledge, however, there is no evidence for P600 at the (initial word of) S,
suggesting that the filler-gap integration consistently occurs at the gap. Thus,
although the context might trigger an expectation for the gap location when
processing SVO in Experiment 2 of the present study, it is unlikely that a P600
appears at S or V of SVO.
As an alternative hypothesis to the syntactic complexity hypothesis, one can
imagine that, unlike the non-D-linked S, the D-linked S does not have a filler-gap
dependency; rather, it originates as a topic where it appears. This alternative
hypothesis predicts a P600 effect for SVO in Experiment 1 but no P600 in
Experiment 2, which is consistent with our observation. This possibility needs a
future investigation into Seediq syntax-pragmatics interface.
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The results of the present study can be most consistently explained by the
discourse hypothesis (cf. Kaiser and Trueswell 2004). In SVO, the S functions as a
topic of a sentence, which means that SVO presupposes that there is a shared
referent in a discourse that directly or implicitly refers to an S (i.e., discourse-given
information). Because the visual context presented prior to the presentation of a
sentence satisfied the presupposition for this structure in Experiment 2, SVO was
not expected to induce an extra processing load compared to VOS. In Experiment 1,
on the other hand, the presupposition was not satisfied. Hence, the syntactic
information of SVO signalled that the parser had to associate an S at the derived
position into its original position, whereas the infelicitous use of SVO did not
validate that the S is located at the topic position because the movement was not
well-motivated. Consequently, the participants had to accommodate the unsatisfied
presupposition encoded by SVO to build a coherent discourse representation, which
induced an additional processing difficulty. An increasing number of recent ERP
studies have argued that the P600 is not a manifestation of pure syntactic processing
difficulty (Bornkessel-Schlesewsky and Schlesewsky 2008; Brouwer et al. 2012;
Brouwer et al. 2017; Kuperberg 2007; Vissers et al. 2006). Instead, it indexes a
process of integrating several types of information, such as syntax and semantics.
Thus, under the discourse hypothesis, the P600 likely reflects the resolution of a
conflict between syntactic structure and information structure of SVO. This
interpretation is also consistent with the result of Yano and Koizumi (2018), who
observed a P600 in the non-basic OSV in Japanese when it was used within the
infelicitous context but not within the felicitous context. If discourse factors affect a
P600 in the processing of filler-gap dependency, the traditional functional
interpretation of P600 as an index of syntactic integration difficulty (Kaan et al.
2000) needs to be clarified in future work.
3.2 The interaction of sentence processing and event apprehension
At the end of each trial, the participants judged whether the content of a sentence
matched a picture. This task required them to apprehend an event depicted in the
picture and then compare the events of the picture and sentence. Interestingly, the
accuracy of AV-SVO was higher than that of GV-SVO and AV-VOS in Experiment
1 despite the observation that AV-SVO was more difficult to process than AV-VOS.
This pattern was not observed in Experiment 2.
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. Yano et al. (2017) observed that VOS was
easier to process than the other three possible orders (in the active voice). The
behavioral result, however, revealed a higher accuracy for SVO, VSO, and VOS
than OVS, despite the fact that the orders other than VOS, such as SVO and VSO,
are syntactically non-basic (SVO: 94.8%, VSO: 93.2%, VOS: 90.1%, OVS: 74.5%).
Assuming that the agent-patient order is favored in the event apprehension of the
picture (cf. Sauppe et al. 2013), they hypothesized that, because the S and O
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414 M. Yano et al.
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correspond to the agent and patient, respectively, in the active voice, the SO order
had an advantage in checking potential mismatches between the picture and the
sentence. Their interpretation can apply to the result of Experiment 1. In AV-SVO,
the agent comes before the patient, whereas the agent comes after the patient in AV-
VOS and GV-SVO, which showed a lower accuracy rate than AV-SVO. Thus, this
result suggests the agent-patient order preference.
However, it remains unclear how to explain that the agent-patient order
preference did not exist between AV-VOS and GV-VOS in Experiment 1 or
Experiment 2. This issue requires further investigation into the relationship between
sentence processing and event apprehension.
4 Conclusion
The present study conducted two ERP experiments to explore word order preference
in Truku Seediq. The result demonstrated that SVO was more difficult to process
than VOS when there was no supportive context for it but not when discourse
requirements were satisfied. This result was not predicted by the hypotheses that the
word order preference derives from the conceptual accessibility (the order of agent-
patient order) and syntactic complexity (filler-gap dependency formation). Instead,
we took the present result as evidence that the processing cost of non-basic word
orders is associated with a discourse-level processing difficulty.
Acknowledgements We thank anonymous reviewers and the editor for their insightful comments and
suggestions. We also appreciate the kind support from collaborators and participants in Hualien. This
study was supported by JSPS KAKENHI (#15H02603, #19H05589, PI: Masatoshi Koizumi) and Kyushu
University (PI: Masataka Yano).
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any com-
mercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.
Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0
International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, dis
tribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s)
and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
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... These observations suggest that there is a universal tendency to place a salient element, such as an agent noun, before a less salient element. Similar ideas based on some notions related to human cognitive features and/or discourse features 1 We should also note that Yano and Koizumi (2018) and Yano, Niikuni, Ono, Sato, Tang, and Koizumi (2019) argue that discourse context is yet another factor for the increased processing cost of the noncanonical word orders, demonstrating that the processing cost for the non-canonical word order decreases when the sentence is placed in a supportive discourse context for such a word order. See also Kaiser and Trueswell (2004) for the effect of discourse factors. ...
... In this paper, we follow Aldridge (2004) and assume that the VOS word order is derived by predicate fronting. As for the SVO word order, Yano et al. (2019) have shown that the SVO order is derived from the VOS, and the subject is in a higher position, as evidenced by the observation that the fronted subject can leave its associated quantifier after VO (see the relevant discussion in Sportiche (1988)). Assuming that the subject fronting involves more functional categories in the CP domain (Rizzi 1997), the SVO structure is a syntactically more complex one. ...
... In languages like Truku, the syntactic complexity account predicts that the SVO word order should take longer to process in general because it is a derived word order from the more basic VOS word order. Assuming that the SVO word order involves a more complex syntactic structure (Aldridge 2004;Yano et al. 2019), it is, in general, more costly to process sentences in that word order. Furthermore, the saliency account suggests that sentences in which the agent comes before the theme are processed quickly. ...
Article
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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.
... German, such as Dutch, is also a SOV language with a V2 phenomenon (i.e., the bern is at the final position in the canonical word order, but is syntactically moved to the second position of the sentence in a simple or the main clause). Therefore, it can be argued that the P600 found in Bott (2010) reflects a syntactic operation to derive the surface order from the canonical order (see Yano et al. (2019) for the elicitation of P600 effect when a sentence is processed with a word order that is different from its canonical one in the simple clause domain). Yet, this argument is not tenable, for the following reason. ...
Thesis
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Time, a crucial concept in human cognition, is differently encoded from one language to another. Yet, how time in language is processed in the brain remains unclear, as such an investigation was mainly conducted based on tense marking in Indo-European languages. The aim of this dissertation is to investigate how past time is expressed in Mandarin with the grammatical aspect markers LE and GUO, as well as how the expression of past time with LE and GUO is processed in the brain. First, this dissertation takes side in the long-standing debate in the linguistic literature concerning whether LE and GUO encode tense in addition to aspect information. Pieces of evidence are brought against the tense analysis of LE and GUO. It is further argued that LE and GUO are used to express past time based on their respective aspectual characteristics, linked with different grammatical processes: ‘temporal sequencing’ for LE and ‘temporal localization’ for GUO. Second, the proposed analysis is tested with a set of three event-related potential (ERP) experiments, in which the temporal and aspectual processing in the brain of LE and GUO is investigated. Results from the ERP experiments support the proposed analysis, in that the processing of time with LE and GUO is reflected by qualitatively distinct ERP signatures: an early frontal negativity for LE, and a P600 for GUO. In addition, these ERP components are different from the ones found concerning the processing of aspect with LE and GUO. Third, the processing of time in the brain with grammatical aspect in Mandarin is contrasted with the one with tense in Indo-European, in order to state a generalized functional account of the above ERP signatures: the early frontal negativity is related to the cognitive operation of ‘temporal sequencing’, and the P600 to the one of ‘temporal localization’. In sum, the pieces of evidence exposed in this dissertation allow us to formulate a neurotypological model of the processing of time in the brain.
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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]
Chapter
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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.
Article
Full-text available
Ten years ago, researchers using event-related brain potentials (ERPs) to study language comprehension were puzzled by what looked like a Semantic Illusion: Semantically anomalous, but structurally well-formed sentences did not affect the N400 component---traditionally taken to reflect semantic integration---but instead produced a P600-effect, which is generally linked to syntactic processing. This finding led to a considerable amount of debate, and a number of complex processing models have been proposed as an explanation. What these models have in common is that they postulate two or more separate processing streams, in order to reconcile the Semantic Illusion and other semantically induced P600-effects with the traditional interpretations of the N400 and the P600. Recently, however, these multi-stream models have been called into question, and a simpler single-stream model has been proposed. According to this alternative model, the N400 component reflects the retrieval of word meaning from semantic memory, and the P600 component indexes the integration of this meaning into the unfolding utterance interpretation. In the present paper, we provide support for this 'Retrieval–Integration' account by instantiating it as a neurocomputational model. This neurocomputational model is the first to successfully simulate N400 and P600 amplitude in language comprehension, and simulations with this model provide a proof of concept of the single-stream Retrieval–Integration account of semantically-induced patterns of N400 and P600 modulations.
Article
Full-text available
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.
Article
Full-text available
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.
Article
This study investigates the neurophysiological correlates of presupposition processing in conditions of satisfaction and accommodation, comparing two types of triggers: definite descriptions and change-of-state verbs. Results showed that, for both types, the accommodation of presuppositions is associated with a biphasic N400-P600 pattern at the processing point. With definite descriptions, we observed a more clear involvement of theN400, while for change-of-state verbs the costs of accommodation were associated with amore pronounced P600. Moreover, when conveyed by change of state predicates, pre-suppositions seem to elicit also a P200 visible already at the trigger verb. The data nicely fit into the Linking-Updating model and support two main conclusions. First, presupposition accommodation is a sequential process unfolding through a biphasic ERP pattern presumably related to search for antecedent and discourse update. Second, the kind of pre-supposition trigger seems to affect the cognitive cost of presupposition accommodation at different processing times, with definite description capitalizing more on the earlier search for antecedent and change-of-state verbs capitalizing more on the later updating of the discourse mental model with the presupposed information. Overall, our findings suggest that the brain understands information taken for granted by going through a process whose time course involves several phases, differently modulated based on specific linguistic expressions.