Converging evidence for the processing advantage of object-relative clauses in Chinese sentences

Symposium 2-2Time:08:30 - 10:00

Denise Hsien Wu1,2
1Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, National Central University, Taoyuan, Taiwan,

2CUHK-PKU-UST Joint Research Centre for Language and Human Complexity,

To comprehend the meaning of a sentence correctly requires the understanding of the meanings of individual words as well as the additional syntactic process to take the word order into account. Given that subject-relative clauses (SRCs) and objective-relative clauses (ORCs) express different meanings via an identical or similar set of words with different orders, they have been used extensively in research to examine the functional and neuroanatomical underpinnings of syntax. For head-initial languages, such as English, the advantage of processing SRCs over ORCs has been consistently reported. In this talk, we present empirical evidence from psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic experiments aiming to investigate whether the same preference for SRCs over ORCs would be observed in a head-final language, namely, Chinese. Consistent results from self-paced reading and eye-tracking experiments, as well as from neuroimaging experiments when participants’ brain responses were recorded simultaneously via event-related potentials or functional magnetic resonance imaging, showed an advantage of ORCs over SRCs in native speakers of Chinese. Although such findings were compatible with the theoretical accounts that postulate contribution of working memory (WM) to sentence comprehension, independent measurements of participants’ WM indexed by conventional digit span, word span, and symmetry span did not correlate with the ORC preference in individual participants. Therefore, a memory mechanism specific to syntax was hypothesized. This line of research not only informs the theories of RC processing in specific, but also sheds light on how dependencies across words in sentences might be comprehended with the assumed support of memory-related resources in general.

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 Important Dates

Submissions Open:
December 10, 2016

Symposia submissions due:
March 1, 2017

Abstract submissions due:
April 10, 2017

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May 20-22, 2017

Registration open:
May 21, 2017

September 1-3, 2017