Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 1-28

First online:

Effects of Weight and Syntactic Priming on the Production of Cantonese Verb-Doubling

  • Elaine J. FrancisAffiliated withDepartment of English, Purdue University Email author 
  • , Stephen MatthewsAffiliated withDepartment of Linguistics, University of Hong Kong
  • , Reace Wing Yan WongAffiliated withDepartment of Linguistics, University of Hong Kong
  • , Stella Wing Man KwanAffiliated withDepartment of Linguistics, University of Hong Kong

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Verb-doubling, where a copy of the main verb occurs both before and after the direct object, is a structure commonly used in Chinese in sentences containing a frequency or duration phrase. In Cantonese, verb-doubling is highly optional and therefore problematic for existing syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic accounts of its distribution in Mandarin. The current study investigates the role of grammatical weight and syntactic priming in the choice of verb-doubling in Cantonese. Following (Hawkins in Efficiency and complexity in grammars, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2004) theory of efficiency and complexity in grammars, we hypothesized that speakers would choose verb-doubling over the canonical structure more often when the object NP was heavy, in order to minimize processing domains. In addition, we expected an effect of syntactic priming whereby the choice of structure is influenced by a previously encountered structure. The results of two elicited production experiments revealed no weight-based preference for verb-doubling, and only minor effects of grammatical weight, but clear effects of syntactic priming: (1) for both canonical primes and verb-doubling primes, speakers tended to repeat previously heard structures; (2) the priming effect was just as strong in the heavy NP condition, where speakers made more errors recalling the semantic content of the sentence, suggesting that semantic information is represented separately from syntactic information; (3) the priming effect was stronger for informationally accurate responses, suggesting that recently activated structures are easier to produce than other structures under conditions of increased cognitive load. We conclude that the choice between verb-doubling and canonical structure in Cantonese is easily influenced by the structure of recently encountered sentences, with weight effects, if any, being more difficult to detect.


Chinese Verb-doubling Sentence production Grammatical weight Syntactic priming