Journal of East Asian Linguistics

, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 207–232 | Cite as

Processing covert dependencies: an SAT study on Mandarin wh-in-situ questions

  • Ming XiangEmail author
  • Brian Dillon
  • Matt Wagers
  • Fengqin Liu
  • Taomei GuoEmail author


In wh-in-situ languages like Mandarin Chinese, in which the wh-phrase remains in a canonical argument position in wh-questions, syntactic theories generally posit that a covert dependency between the in-situ position and a clause-initial syntactic operator must nonetheless hold at logical form. Wh-in-situ languages and wh-fronted languages are in this way abstractly similar. This paper investigates whether the processing of Mandarin wh-in-situ questions indeed involves constructing a long-distance dependency. Using the multiple-response speed–accuracy tradeoff (SAT) paradigm, we show that Chinese wh-in-situ questions incur more processing costs than their non-wh counterparts. Furthermore, the length of the covert dependency affects only processing accuracy, but not processing speed. This pattern suggests a content-addressable memory process underlying the construction of wh-in-situ dependencies, similar to overt long distance dependencies in English.


Wh-in-situ Chinese Long distance dependencies Covert dependencies Memory mechanisms Processing complexity 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Linguistics DepartmentUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  2. 2.University of Massachusetts AmherstAmherstUSA
  3. 3.University of California Santa CruzSanta CruzUSA
  4. 4.State Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and LearningBeijing Normal UniversityBeijingChina

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