Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 1–28 | Cite as

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

  • Elaine J. Francis
  • Stephen Matthews
  • Reace Wing Yan Wong
  • Stella Wing Man Kwan


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 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Arnold J. E., Wasow T., Asudeh A., Alrenga P. (2004) Avoiding attachment ambiguities: The role of constituent ordering. Journal of Memory and Language 51: 55–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arnold J. E., Wasow T., Losongco A., Ginstrom R. (2000) Heaviness vs. newness: The effects of structural complexity and discourse status on constituent ordering. Language 76: 28–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bock J. K. (1986) Syntactic persistence in language production. Cognitive Psychology 18: 355–387CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bock J. K., Dell G. S., Chang F., Onishi K. H. (2007) Persistent structural priming from language comprehension to language production. Cognition 104: 437–458CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Bock J. K., Griffin Z. M. (2000) The persistence of structural priming: Transient activation or implicit learning? Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 129: 177–192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bock J.K., Loebell H. (1990) Framing sentences. Cognition 35: 1–39CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Bresnan J. W. (2006) Is syntactic knowledge probabilistic? Experiments with the English dative alternation. In: Featherston S., Sternefeld W. (eds) Roots: Linguistics in, search of its evidential base. Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin, pp 75–96Google Scholar
  8. Chang C. H.-H. (1991) Thematic structure and verb copying in Mandarin Chinese. Language Sciences 13: 399–419CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cheung, K. S. A. (2006). Processing Factors in Language Comprehension and Production: The Case of Cantonese Dative Constructions. MPhil thesis, University of Hong Kong.Google Scholar
  10. Ching, H. L. H. (2008). The advantages of topicalization: An experimental study of sentence processing in Cantonese. MPhil thesis, University of Hong Kong.Google Scholar
  11. Corley M., Scheepers C. (2002) Syntactic priming in English sentence production: Categorical and latency evidence from an internet-based study. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review 9: 126–131CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Fan K., Lee T., Lun C., Luke K. K., Tung P., Cheung K. H. (1997) Guide to LSHK Cantonese Romanization of Chinese characters. Linguistic Society of Hong Kong, Hong KongGoogle Scholar
  13. Ferreira V. S., Dell G. S. (2000) Effect of ambiguity and lexical availability on syntactic and lexical production. Cognitive Psychology 40: 296–340CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Francis E.J. (2010) Grammatical weight and relative clause extraposition in English. Cognitive Linguistics. 21: 35–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hartsuiker R. J., Kolk H. H. J. (1998) Syntactic facilitation in agrammatic sentence production. Brain and Language 62: 221–254CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Hawkins J. A. (1994) A performance theory of order and constituency. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  17. Hawkins J. A. (2001) Why are categories adjacent?. Journal of Linguistics 37: 1–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hawkins J. A. (2004) Efficiency and complexity in grammars. Oxford University Press, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hsieh M.-L. (1992) Analogy as a type of interaction: The case of verb copying. Journal of the Chinese Language Teachers Association 27: 75–92Google Scholar
  20. Huang, C. T. J. (1982). Logical Relations in Chinese and the Theory of Grammar. Ph.D. Dissertation, MIT.Google Scholar
  21. Li Y.-H. A. (1990) Order and constituency in Mandarin Chinese. Kluwer, DordrechtGoogle Scholar
  22. Liu X. (1996) The verb copying construction—a case of discourse backgrounding. Journal of the Chinese Language Teachers Association 31: 57–75Google Scholar
  23. Liu X. (1997) The verb-copying construction and imperfectivity. Journal of the Chinese Language Teachers Association 32: 1–13Google Scholar
  24. Liu, Y. H. S. (2006). An experimental study of verb-doubling and domain minimization in Cantonese. BCogSc thesis, University of Hong Kong.Google Scholar
  25. Lohse B. L., Hawkins J. A., Wasow T. (2004) Domain minimization in English verb-particle constructions. Language 80: 238–261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Matthews S., Yeung L. Y. Y. (2001) Processing motivations for topicalization in Cantonese. In: Horie K., Sato S. (eds) Cognitive-functional linguistics in an East Asian context. Kurosio, Tokyo, pp 81–102Google Scholar
  27. Matthews S., Yip V. (1994) Cantonese: A comprehensive grammar. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  28. Paris M. -C. (1988) Durational complements and verb copying in Chinese. Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies 28: 423–439Google Scholar
  29. Paul W. (2002) Proxy categories in phrase structure theory and the Chinese VP. Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale 31: 137–174CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Potter M. C., Lombardi L. (1990) Regeneration in the short-term recall of sentences. Journal of Memory Language 29: 633–654CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Potter M. C., Lombardi L. (1998) Syntactic priming in immediate recall of sentences. Journal of Memory and Language 38: 265–282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Rohdenburg G. (1999) Clausal complementation and cognitive complexity in English. In: Neumann F. W., Schülting S. (eds) Anglistentag 1998 Erfurt. Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, Trier, pp 101–112Google Scholar
  33. Smith M., Wheeldon L. (2001) Syntactic priming in spoken sentence production: An online study. Cognition 78: 123–164CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Stallings L. M., MacDonald M. C., O’Seaghdha P. G. (1998) Phrasal ordering constraints in sentence production: Phrase length and verb disposition in heavy-NP shift. Journal of Memory and Language 39: 392–417CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Tai J. H.-Y. (1985) Temporal sequence and Chinese word order. In: Haiman J. (eds) Iconicity in syntax. John Benjamins, Amsterdam, pp 49–72Google Scholar
  36. Wasow T. (1997) End-weight from the speaker’s perspective. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 26: 347–361CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Wasow T. (2002) Postverbal Behavior. CSLI Publications, StanfordGoogle Scholar
  38. Uszkoreit H., Brants T., Duchier D., Krenn B., Konieczny L., Oepen S., Skut W. (1998) Studien zur performanzorientierten Linguistik: Aspekte der Relativsatzextraposition im Deutschen. Kognitionswissenschaft 7: 129–133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Yamashita H. (2002) Scrambled sentences in Japanese: Linguistic properties and motivations for production. Text 22: 597–633Google Scholar
  40. Yamashita H., Chang F. (2001) Long before short preference in the production of a head-final language. Cognition 81: B45–B55CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elaine J. Francis
    • 1
  • Stephen Matthews
    • 2
  • Reace Wing Yan Wong
    • 2
  • Stella Wing Man Kwan
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of EnglishPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA
  2. 2.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of Hong KongHong KongChina

Personalised recommendations