Syntax and processing in Seediq: a behavioral study

Hajime Ono, Jungho Kim, Manami Sato, Apay Ai yu Tang, Masatoshi Koizumi

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1 Citation (Scopus)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)237-258
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of East Asian Linguistics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2020 May 1


  • Auditory sentence comprehension
  • Filler-gap dependency
  • Saliency
  • Semantic anomaly detection
  • Syntactic complexity
  • Truku (Seediq)
  • Voice
  • Word order


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