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Review of  Sentence Processing in East Asian Languages

Reviewer: Fang-yi Chao
Book Title: Sentence Processing in East Asian Languages
Book Author: Mineharu Nakayama
Publisher: CSLI Publications
Linguistic Field(s): Psycholinguistics
Cognitive Science
Issue Number: 15.2664

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Date: Wed, 22 Sep 2004 01:17:25 -0600
From: Fang-yi Chao
Subject: Sentence Processing in East Asian Languages

EDITOR Nakayama, Mineharu
TITLE: Sentence Processing in East Asian Languages
PUBLISHER: CSLI Publications
YEAR: 2002

Fang-yi Chao, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations,
University of Colorado at Boulder, Assistant Professor

The book contains a selection of the papers given by participants of
the International East Asian Psycholinguistics Workshop held at the
Ohio State University on August 4, 1999. The editor of the book
indicates that this is the first book of its kind that devoted solely
to sentence processing issues in East Asian languages, particularly
Cantonese, Japanese, Korean and Mandarin Chinese. This is a valuable
resource for investigating East Asian languages in psycholinguistics,
computational linguistics, and theoretical linguistics.

The book consists of ten chapters, each of them being an independent
article. Each chapter manifests the special characteristics of the
language(s) under discussion as well as the problems pertaining to
the processing of those unique features in the language(s).

The first chapter (pp.1-29) by Kathleen Ahrens entitled "Time issues
in lexical ambiguity resolution" examines the effects of homophones
on lexical ambiguity in Chinese. Ahrens based on modularity
hypothesis discusses the significance of the immediacy as well as the
automaticity of lexical access in processing lexical ambiguity, and
argues that time as well as content play significant roles in
ambiguity resolution in Mandarin Chinese.

Chapter Two (pp. 31-52): "Resolution of reanalysis ambiguity in
Japanese relative clauses: early use of thematic compatibility
information and incremental Processing" by Yuki Hirose. Hirose's
chapter discusses the effect of the thematic role ambiguity on
processing Japanese relative clauses. Hirose argues that the parser
makes use of thematic compatibility information as early as the
application of structure-based preference principles, and parsing is
strictly incremental in the reanalysis stage as well as in the
first-pass stage.

Chapter Three (pp.53-83): "The nature of categorical ambiguity and
its implications for language processing: a corpus-based study of
Mandarin Chinese" by Chu-Ren Huang, Chao-Jan Chen and Claude C. C.
Shen. In their chapter, Huang et al. discuss the nature of
categorical ambiguity in human language and establish the baseline
performance for categorical ambiguity resolution for Chinese. They
propose that categorical ambiguity might be primarily motivated by
conceptual necessity.

Chapter Four (pp.85-110): "Syntactic and positional similarity
effects in the processing of Japanese embeddings" by Richard L. Lewis
and Mineharu Nakayama. Lewis and Nakayama argue for the
similarity-based interference theory; a proposal that claims
syntactic similarity of NP arguments is a significant determinant of
processing difficulty in unambiguous embedded constructions. They
extend their theory to include positional interference, and present
experimental data in support of this theory.

Chapter Five (pp.111-29): "Lexical ambiguity in sentence processing:
evidence from Chinese" by Ping Li, Hua Shu, Michael Yip, Yaxu Zhang
and Yinghong Tang. Lexical ambiguity has been one of the most
important topics in the studies of context effects in word
recognition. As the Chinese language has a massive number of
homophones at the lexical and morphemic level, Li et al. investigate
the processing of homophones in both Cantonese and Mandarin. Their
findings support the context-dependency hypothesis, which argues that
language processing is a highly interactive form of information
processing, and that prior sentence context can influence lexical
access at an early stage.

Chapter Six (pp.131-66): "Costs of scrambling in Japanese sentence
processing" by Reiko Mazuka, Kenji Itoh and Tadahisa Kondo. In their
chapter, Mazuka et al. explore from psycholinguistic perspectives the
cost associated with processing scrambled sentences. They challenge
previous generalization about processing scrambled sentences and
argue that scrambled sentences are indeed more difficult to process
than canonical sentences.

Chapter Seven (pp. 167-88): "Source of difficulty in processing
scrambling in Japanese" by Edson T. Miyamoto and Shoichi Takahashi.
Similar to the previous chapter, Miyamoto and Takahashi also deal
with the problems related to processing scrambling in Japanese.
Miyamoto and Takahashi propose that the processing of non-canonical
word orders involves searching for the gap required by a displaced
element, thus causes extra time during the processing procedure.

Chapter Eight (pp.189-221): "Processing filler-gap constructions in
Japanese: The Case of Empty Subject Sentences" by Tsutomu Sakamoto.
Based on Fodor (1978) Sakamoto proposes a "Multi-level parsing model"
to account for different levels of information processing. Supported
with evidence from experiments involving the processing of filler-gap
constructions, he claims that there exist at least two distinct
levels of processing. However, the findings in his experiments do
not confirm the sequential ordering of these levels.

Chapter Nine (pp.223-55): "Effects of accentual phrasing on adjective
interpretation in Korean" by Amy J. Schafer and Sun-Ah Jun. The
purposes of this study are to investigate the effects of accentual
phrasing on sentence comprehension in Korean as well as to compare
the effects of prosodic phrasing in Korean and English. Shafer and
Jun argue that sentence comprehension in Korea, like English, shows
effects of acoustically subtle prosodic phrase boundaries. They also
claim that the discrepancy between Korean and English in prosodic
effects stem from the grammatical constraints governing prosody and
the mapping between prosodic structure and syntactic and semantic
structures in the two different languages.

Chapter Ten (pp.257-87): "Center-embedding problem and the
contribution of nominative case repetition" by Keiko Uehara and
Dianne C. Bradley. Uehara and Bradley's chapter discusses the effect
of nominative case (-ga) repetition, particularly the contrast
between three times and twice, on processing doubly center-embedded
sentences in Japanese. Based on the results of testing 1) ga-
repetition cost in double embedding, 2) phonological repetition
effect, and 3)ga- structural ambiguity effect, they argue that
neither the phonological repetition nor the syntactic ambiguity of
the nominative marker (ga-) contributes to the processing
difficulties associated with doubly center-embedded sentences. As
the results of their experiments indicated that there was a strong
preference to take NP-ga as the subject of a clause, they suggest
that the processing difficulties are mainly caused by the repeated

As language processing is relatively new in the studies of East Asian
languages, most chapters in the volume conclude their discussions
with further directions for the investigation of topics related to
their studies. This collection of papers is not suitable for
beginners, because some papers require background knowledge of
computational linguistics or psycholinguistics. This book is indeed
a valuable contribution to the study of language processing, as it
provides empirical results from processing East Asian languages for
the construction of a universal theory of human language processing.
It is to be hoped that it will stimulate a whole range of follow-up
studies in the area of processing non Indo-European languages.

Fang-yi Chao is an Assistant Professor in the Department of East
Asian Languages and Civilizations at University of Colorado at
Boulder. Her research interests include Chinese historical
linguistics, Chinese Dialectology, Sociolinguistics, and language