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      Preference for Object Relative Clauses in Chinese Sentence Comprehension: Evidence From Online Self-Paced Reading Time

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          Abstract

          Most prior studies have reported that subject-extracted relative clauses (SRCs) are easier to process than object-extracted relative clauses (ORCs). However, whether such an SRC preference is universal across different languages remains an open question. Several reports from Chinese have provided conflicting results; thus, in the present study, we conducted two self-paced reading experiments to examine the comprehension of Chinese relative clauses. The results demonstrated a clear ORC preference that Chinese ORCs were easier to comprehend than Chinese SRCs. These findings were most compatible with the prediction of the integration cost account, which claims that the processing difference between SRCs and ORCs arises at the point of dependency formation. The ORC preference in Chinese poses a challenge to the universality of the SRC preference assumed by the structural distance hypothesis and highlights the values of cross-linguistic research.

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          Most cited references39

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          Frequency of Basic English Grammatical Structures: A Corpus Analysis.

          Many recent models of language comprehension have stressed the role of distributional frequencies in determining the relative accessibility or ease of processing associated with a particular lexical item or sentence structure. However, there exist relatively few comprehensive analyses of structural frequencies, and little consideration has been given to the appropriateness of using any particular set of corpus frequencies in modeling human language. We provide a comprehensive set of structural frequencies for a variety of written and spoken corpora, focusing on structures that have played a critical role in debates on normal psycholinguistics, aphasia, and child language acquisition, and compare our results with those from several recent papers to illustrate the implications and limitations of using corpus data in psycholinguistic research.
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            Processing relative clauses in Chinese.

            This paper reports results from a self-paced reading study in Chinese that demonstrates that object-extracted relative clause structures are less complex than corresponding subject-extracted structures. These results contrast with results from processing other Subject-Verb-Object languages like English, in which object-extracted structures are more complex than subject-extracted structures. A key word-order difference between Chinese and other Subject-Verb-Object languages is that Chinese relative clauses precede their head nouns. Because of this word order difference, the results follow from a resource-based theory of sentence complexity, according to which there is a storage cost associated with predicting syntactic heads in order to form a grammatical sentence. The results are also consistent with a theory according to which people have less difficulty processing embedded clauses whose word order matches the word order in main clauses. Some corpus analyses of Chinese texts provide results that constrain the classes of possible frequency-based theories. Critically, these results demonstrate that there is nothing intrinsically easy about extracting from subject position: depending on the word order in the main clause and in a relative clause, extraction from object position can be easier to process in some circumstances.
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              Processing of relative clauses is made easier by frequency of occurrence

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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Journal
                Front Psychol
                Front Psychol
                Front. Psychol.
                Frontiers in Psychology
                Frontiers Media S.A.
                1664-1078
                01 October 2019
                2019
                : 10
                : 2210
                Affiliations
                [1] 1Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, National Central University , Taoyuan, Taiwan
                [2] 2Institute for Neural Computation, University of California, San Diego , La Jolla, CA, United States
                [3] 3College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Taipei Medical University , Taipei, Taiwan
                Author notes

                Edited by: Morten H. Christiansen, Cornell University, United States

                Reviewed by: Tao Gong, Educational Testing Service, United States; Edward Gibson, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, United States

                This article was submitted to Language Sciences, a section of the journal Frontiers in Psychology

                Article
                10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02210
                6779865
                31632322
                4020d5cd-2299-4c03-a863-1fe8d870e39a
                Copyright © 2019 Xu, Duann, Hung and Wu.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

                History
                : 01 June 2019
                : 17 September 2019
                Page count
                Figures: 10, Tables: 0, Equations: 1, References: 61, Pages: 15, Words: 0
                Funding
                Funded by: Ministry of Science and Technology 10.13039/100007225
                Award ID: 102-2628-H-008-002-MY3
                Award ID: 105-2420-H-008-001-MY3
                Categories
                Psychology
                Original Research

                Clinical Psychology & Psychiatry
                chinese relative clause,self-paced reading,orc preference,dependency locality theory,integration cost

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