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Journal Article

Syntactic structures in motion: Investigating word order variations in verb-final (Korean) and verb-initial (Tongan) languages


Verdonschot,  Rinus G.
Neurobiology of Language Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Tamaoka, K., Yu, S., Zhang, J., Otsuka, Y., Lim, H., Koizumi, M., et al. (2024). Syntactic structures in motion: Investigating word order variations in verb-final (Korean) and verb-initial (Tongan) languages. Frontiers in Psychology, 15: 1360191. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2024.1360191.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000F-1628-C
This study explored sentence processing in two typologically distinct languages: Korean, a verb-final language, and Tongan, a verb-initial language. The first experiment revealed that in Korean, sentences arranged in the scrambled OSV (Object, Subject, Verb) order were processed more slowly than those in the canonical SOV order, highlighting a scrambling effect. It also found that sentences with subject topicalization in the SOV order were processed as swiftly as those in the canonical form, whereas sentences with object topicalization in the OSV order were processed with speeds and accuracy comparable to scrambled sentences. However, since topicalization and scrambling in Korean use the same OSV order, independently distinguishing the effects of topicalization is challenging. In contrast, Tongan allows for a clear separation of word orders for topicalization and scrambling, facilitating an independent evaluation of topicalization effects. The second experiment, employing a maze task, confirmed that Tongan’s canonical VSO order was processed more efficiently than the VOS scrambled order, thereby verifying a scrambling effect. The third experiment investigated the effects of both scrambling and topicalization in Tongan, finding that the canonical VSO order was processed most efficiently in terms of speed and accuracy, unlike the VOS scrambled and SVO topicalized orders. Notably, the OVS object-topicalized order was processed as efficiently as the VSO canonical order, while the SVO subject-topicalized order was slower than VSO but faster than VOS. By independently assessing the effects of topicalization apart from scrambling, this study demonstrates that both subject and object topicalization in Tongan facilitate sentence processing, contradicting the predictions based on movement-based anticipation.