Uncertainty in processing relative clauses across East Asian languages

Jiwon Yun, Zhong Chen, Tim Hunter, John Whitman, John Hale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


The processing difficulty profile for relative clauses in Chinese, Japanese and Korean represents a challenge for theories of human parsing. We address this challenge using a grammar-based complexity metric, one that reflects a minimalist analysis of relative clauses for all three languages as well as structure-dependent corpus distributions. Together, these define a comprehender’s degree of uncertainty at each point in a sentence. We use this idea to quantify the intuition that people do comprehension work as they incrementally resolve ambiguity, word by word. We find that downward changes to this quantitative measure of uncertainty derive observed processing contrasts between Subject- and Object-extracted relative clauses. This demonstrates that the complexity metric, in conjunction with a minimalist grammar and corpus-based weights, accounts for the widely-observed Subject Advantage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)113-148
Number of pages36
JournalJournal of East Asian Linguistics
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2015.


  • Chinese
  • Information theory
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Minimalism
  • Relative clause


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