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Syntactic flexibility and competition in sentence production: the case of English and Russian

By A. Myachykov, C. Scheepers, S. Garrod, D. Thompson and O. Fedorova


We analysed how syntactic flexibility influences sentence production in two different languages—English and Russian. In Experiment 1, speakers were instructed to produce as many structurally different descriptions of transitive-event pictures as possible. Consistent with the syntactically more flexible Russian grammar, Russian participants produced more descriptions and used a greater variety of structures than their English counterparts. In Experiment 2, a different sample of participants provided single-sentence descriptions of the same picture materials while their eye movements were recorded. In this task, English and Russian participants almost exclusively produced canonical subject–verb–object active-voice structures. However, Russian participants took longer to plan their sentences, as reflected in longer sentence onset latencies and eye–voice spans for the sentence-initial subject noun. This cross-linguistic difference in processing load diminished toward the end of the sentence. Stepwise generalized linear model analyses showed that the greater sentence-initial processing load registered in Experiment 2 corresponded to the greater amount of syntactic competition from available alternatives (Experiment 1), suggesting that syntactic flexibility is costly regardless of the language in use

Publisher: 'Informa UK Limited'
Year: 2013
DOI identifier: 10.1080/17470218.2012.754910
OAI identifier:
Provided by: Enlighten
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