The Roles of Efficiency and Complexity in the Processing of Verb Particle Constructions


Recent theories have proposed that processing difficulty affects both individuals’ choice of grammatical structures and the distribution of these structures across languages of the world (Hawkins, 2004). Researchers have proposed that performance constraints, such as efficiency, integration, and storage costs, drive languages to choose word orders that minimize processing demands for individual speakers (Hawkins, 1994; Gibson, 2000). This study investigates whether three performance factors, adjacency, dependency, and complexity, affect reading times of sentences with verb-particle constructions.  Results indicate that it is more difficult to process dependent verb-particles in shifted sentences that contain more complex intervening noun phrases.  These findings demonstrate how performance factors interact and how the relative weight of each affects processing.  The results also support the notion that processing ease affects grammaticalization, such that those structures which are more easily processed by individuals (subject relatives and adjacent dependent constituents) are more common across languages (Keenan & Hawkins, 1987).

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