Constituent Order in Language and Thought: A Field-based Cognitive Neuroscientific Approach

Mar 1 12:00–1:30pm
Common Room (#136), 2 Divinity Ave., Cambridge

Koizumi Masatoshi (Professor of Linguistics and Brain Science, Tohoku University; Visiting Scholar, Harvard-Yenching Institute)
Chair/discussant: C.-T. James Huang (Professor of Linguistics, Harvard University)

Co-sponsored with the Department of Linguistics, Harvard University

In many flexible word order languages, sentences with a transitive verb (V) in which the subject (S) precedes the object (O) (SO word order = SOV, SVO, VSO) are reported to be “preferred” over those in which the opposite occurs (OS word order = OSV, OVS, VOS). For example, SO sentences are easier to process and are produced more frequently than OS sentences in Finnish, Japanese, Sinhalese, and others. This empirical evidence of the preference for SO word order, however, is not conclusive, because it comes exclusively from SO languages, i.e., languages in which SO is the syntactically simplest word order. It is therefore necessary to study OS languages to investigate whether or not the same preference holds. In this talk, I will report on several experiments my colleagues and I have conducted, to this end, on Kaqchikel (Mayan, Guatemala) and Seediq (Austronesian, Taiwan), whose syntactically basic word order is VOS.