Second language gap processing of Japanese scrambling under a Simpler Syntax account

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This self-paced reading study provides evidence of second language (L2) learners’ ability to perform syntactic gap processing while reading sentences with scrambling in Japanese. Due to the verb-finality of Japanese, syntactic gap processing occurs before the verb’s argument structure information becomes available. The two scrambling conditions included in the study were constructed by dislocating the direct object of a double object construction either a short distance (short scrambling) or farther away (long scrambling) from its canonical pre-verbal position. Both conditions involve syntactic gap processing at the pre-verbal position; however, there is greater difficulty narrowing syntactic predictions at the pre-verbal position in the long than in the short scrambling condition (Nakatani & Gibson, 2008). The study included advanced Korean and Chinese learners and native speakers of Japanese (24 participants per group). The Korean learners showed a reading slowdown at the pre-verbal gap-implicating region in the short scrambling condition but not in the long scrambling condition as the latter apparently overtaxed their cognitive resources. The Chinese learners exhibited no evidence of syntactic gap processing in either scrambling condition. The article proposes a unified account under Simpler Syntax (Culicover & Jackendoff, 2005) of how learners process short- and long-distance scrambling. The account allows for the view that under a high computational demand, learners’ gap processing may result in structurally underspecified but nevertheless legitimate representation of an input string, which is accomplished by making adjustments in the syntax–semantics interface rules and without overreliance on semantic–pragmatic information.


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