Incremental processing of coreference and binding in Japanese

Sachiko Aoshima, Masaya Yoshida, Colin Phillips

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


This article presents two on-line self-paced reading studies and three off-line acceptability judgment studies on the processing of backward anaphoric dependencies in Japanese in which a pronoun precedes potential antecedent noun phrases. The studies investigate the real-time formation of coreference relations and operator-variable binding relations to determine whether speakers of head-final languages are able to construct grammatically accurate syntactic structures before they encounter a verb. The results of the acceptability rating studies confirm previous claims that backwards anaphoric dependencies in Japanese are more acceptable in configurations where a pronoun has been fronted via scrambling from a position where it would be c-commanded by its antecedent. The results of the on-line studies demonstrate that these acceptability contrasts have an immediate impact on parsing. Reading-time results showed immediate sensitivity to the semantic congruency between an NP and a preceding pronoun in noncanonical ("scrambled") word orders, and no immediate effect of semantic congruency otherwise. This contrast was found both for coreference relations involving the personal pronouns kare/kanojo (experiment 1) and for operator-variable relations involving the demonstrative pronoun soko (experiment 3). These findings go beyond previous evidence for incremental parsing in head-final languages by showing that Japanese speakers build compositional structures (such as anaphoric relations) in a grammatically constrained fashion in advance of encountering a verb in the input.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)93-134
Number of pages42
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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