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      Processing relative clauses in Chinese

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      Cognition
      Elsevier BV

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          Abstract

          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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          Author and article information

          Journal
          Cognition
          Cognition
          Elsevier BV
          00100277
          November 2003
          November 2003
          : 90
          : 1
          : 3-27
          Article
          10.1016/S0010-0277(03)00124-0
          14597268
          b998f4f2-c6e2-40ca-8d67-178d35718584
          © 2003

          https://www.elsevier.com/tdm/userlicense/1.0/

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