# Exploring the nature of the subject'-preference: evidence from the online comprehension of simple sentences in Mandarin Chinese

Wang, Luming; Schlesewsky, Matthias; Bickel, Balthasar; Bornkessel-Schlesewsky, Ina (2009). Exploring the nature of the subject'-preference: evidence from the online comprehension of simple sentences in Mandarin Chinese. Language And Cognitive Processes, 24(7-8):1180 - 1226.

## Abstract

In two visual ERP studies, we investigated whether Mandarin Chinese shows a subject-preference in spite of the controversial status of grammatical relations in this language. We compared ERP responses at the position of the verb and the second NP in object-verb-subject (OVS) and subject-verb-object (SVO) structures. While SVO is the basic word order in Chinese and OV with subject-drop is possible, OVS is strongly dispreferred. At the position of the verb, which disambiguated towards an object or a subject reading of NP1, Experiment 1 revealed an N400 for both subject-initial control conditions in comparison with the critical object-initial condition. Experiment 2 showed that this result was due to differences in lexical-semantic relatedness between NP1 and the verb. When these were controlled for, we observed an N400 for the disambiguation towards an object-initial order, i.e., evidence for a subject-preference. At the postverbal NP, the object-initial condition showed a biphasic N400-late positivity pattern in both experiments. We interpret the N400 as reflecting the processing of an unexpected argument and the late positivity as a correlate of a well-formedness mismatch. Overall, our results suggest that Mandarin Chinese shows a subject-preference for an initial argument, thus providing further converging support for the notion that the subject-preference might constitute a universal processing strategy. We argue that the functional basis for this strategy lies in cross-linguistically applicable economy principles that serve to constrain incremental interpretation.

## Abstract

In two visual ERP studies, we investigated whether Mandarin Chinese shows a subject-preference in spite of the controversial status of grammatical relations in this language. We compared ERP responses at the position of the verb and the second NP in object-verb-subject (OVS) and subject-verb-object (SVO) structures. While SVO is the basic word order in Chinese and OV with subject-drop is possible, OVS is strongly dispreferred. At the position of the verb, which disambiguated towards an object or a subject reading of NP1, Experiment 1 revealed an N400 for both subject-initial control conditions in comparison with the critical object-initial condition. Experiment 2 showed that this result was due to differences in lexical-semantic relatedness between NP1 and the verb. When these were controlled for, we observed an N400 for the disambiguation towards an object-initial order, i.e., evidence for a subject-preference. At the postverbal NP, the object-initial condition showed a biphasic N400-late positivity pattern in both experiments. We interpret the N400 as reflecting the processing of an unexpected argument and the late positivity as a correlate of a well-formedness mismatch. Overall, our results suggest that Mandarin Chinese shows a subject-preference for an initial argument, thus providing further converging support for the notion that the subject-preference might constitute a universal processing strategy. We argue that the functional basis for this strategy lies in cross-linguistically applicable economy principles that serve to constrain incremental interpretation.

## Citations

24 citations in Web of Science®
19 citations in Scopus®

## Altmetrics

Detailed statistics

Item Type: Journal Article, refereed, original work 06 Faculty of Arts > Department of Comparative Linguistics 490 Other languages 890 Other literatures 410 Linguistics English 2009 24 Oct 2011 07:29 05 Apr 2016 14:58 Taylor & Francis 0169-0965 https://doi.org/10.1080/01690960802159937