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

Myachykov, A., Scheepers, C. , Garrod, S. , Thompson, D. and Fedorova, O. (2013) Syntactic flexibility and competition in sentence production: the case of English and Russian. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 66(8), pp. 1601-1619. (doi: 10.1080/17470218.2012.754910)

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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.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Scheepers, Dr Christoph and Garrod, Professor Simon and Myachykov, Dr Andriy
Authors: Myachykov, A., Scheepers, C., Garrod, S., Thompson, D., and Fedorova, O.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Psychology & Neuroscience
Journal Name:Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
ISSN (Online):1747-0226

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
509541Get- versus be-passives in English: a functional investigationChristoph ScheepersEconomic & Social Research Council (ESRC)ES/G045720/1RI NEUROSCIENCE & PSYCHOLOGY