Reading and Writing

, Volume 24, Issue 6, pp 709–727 | Cite as

Revisiting the scrambling complexity hypothesis in sentence processing: a self-paced reading study on anomaly detection and scrambling in Hindi

  • Ramesh K. Mishra
  • Aparna Pandey
  • Narayanan SrinivasanEmail author


The scrambling complexity hypothesis based on working memory or locality accounts as well as syntactic accounts have proposed that processing a scrambled structure is difficult. However, the locus of this difficulty in sentence processing remains debatable. Several studies on multiple languages have explored the effect of scrambling on sentence processing and not all languages have shown an advantage for the canonical word order. Using a self-paced reading paradigm, we studied the effect of scrambling on semantic anomaly detection in Hindi sentence comprehension employing three word order types. Reading times on critical verbs, judgment latency, and error rates showed significant effect of word order type. The results further revealed significant interactions between word order and anomaly type. The patterns of results suggest that the canonical word order does not necessarily have a processing advantage in terms of speed and accuracy over non-canonical orders and do not provide support to sentence processing accounts that assume an advantage for canonical structures. The results indicate that processing speed depends on the distance between the subject and the verb, thus supporting a locality dependent working memory based model of sentence processing. The results provide evidence for the role of specific cognitive processes in Hindi sentence processing with further implications for language and literacy acquisition in Hindi.


Scrambling Working memory Canonicity Semantic anomaly Self-paced reading Hindi Sentence processing 


  1. Altmann, G. T. M., & Mirković, J. (2009). Incrementality and prediction in human sentence processing. Cognitive Science, 33, 1–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bahlmann, J., Rodriguez-Fornells, A., Rotte, M., & Munte, T. F. (2007). An fMRI study of canonical and noncanonical word order in German. Human Brain Mapping, 28, 940–949.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Braze, D., Shankweiler, D., Ni, W., & Palumbo, L. C. (2002). Readers’ eye movements distinguish anomalies of form and content. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 31, 25–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cain, K., Oakhill, J., & Bryant, P. (2004). Children’s reading comprehension ability: Concurrent prediction by working memory, verbal ability, and component skills. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96, 31–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Carretti, B., Borella, E., Cornoldi, C., & De Beni, R. (2009). Role of working memory in explaining the performance of individuals with specific reading comprehension difficulties: A meta-analysis. Learning and Individual Differences, 19, 246–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chomsky, N. (1965). Aspects of theory of syntax. MA: MIT.Google Scholar
  7. Chomsky, N. (1981). Lectures on government and binding. Foris: Dordrecht.Google Scholar
  8. Choudhary, K. K. (2010). Incremental argument interpretation in a split ergative language: electrophysiological evidence from Hindi. Ph.D. Thesis submitted to University of Leipzig, Germany to be published in MPI Series of Cognitive Sciences, Leipzig.Google Scholar
  9. Choudhary, K. K., Schlesewsky, M., Roehm, D., & Bornkessel-Schlesewsky, I. (2009). The N400 as a correlate of interpretively relevant linguistic rules: Evidence from Hindi. Neuropsychologia, 47, 3012–3022.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Comrie, B. (1981). Language universals and linguistic typology. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  11. Dayal, V., & Mahajan, A. (2004). Clause structure in South Asian languages. Dordrecht: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. de Villiers, P. A., & de Villiers, J. G. (1972). Early judgments of semantic and syntactic acceptability by children. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 1, 299–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Erdocia, K., Laka, I., Mestres-Misse, A., & Rodriguez-Fornells, A. (2009). Syntactic complexity and ambiguity resolution in a free word order language: Behavioral and electrophysiological evidences from Basque. Brain and Language, 109, 1–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fodor, J. D. (1978). Parsing strategies and constraints on transformations. Linguistic Inquiry, 9, 427–473.Google Scholar
  15. Frazier, L. (1995). Constraint satisfaction as a theory of sentence processing. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 6, 437–468.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Frazier, L., & Fodor, J. D. (1978). The sausage machine: A new two-stage parsing model. Cognition, 6, 291–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gibson, E. (1998). Linguistic complexity: Locality of syntactic dependencies. Cognition, 68, 1–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Karimi, S. (Ed.). (2003). Word order and scrambling. London: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  19. Kayne, R. S. (1994). The antisymmetry of syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  20. Kim, J., Koizumi, M., Ikuta, N., et al. (2009). Scrambling effects on the processing of Japanese sentences: An fMRI study. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 22, 151–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kolk, H., & Weijts, M. (1996). Judgment of semantic anomaly in aggrammatic patients. Brain and Language, 54, 86–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kuperberg, G., Caplan, D., Sitnikova, T., Eddy, M., & Holcomb, P. (2006). Neural correlates of processing syntactic, semantic, and thematic relationship. Language and Cognitive Processes, 21, 489–530.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kutas, M., & Hillyard, S. A. (1984). Brain potentials during reading reflect word expectancy and semantic anomalies. Nature, 307, 161–163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lewis, R. L., & Vasishth, S. (2005). An activation model of sentence processing as skilled memory retrieval. Cognitive Science, 29, 375–419.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Mishra, R. K. (2007). Spatial premise integration in Hindi. Indian Journal of Applied Linguistics, 33, 103–118.Google Scholar
  26. Miyagawa, S. (2005). EPP and semantically-vacuous scrambling. In J. Sabel & M. Saito (Eds.), The Free Word Order Phenomenon: Its Syntactic Sources and Diversity (pp. 181–220). Mouton de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  27. Mohanan, K. P., & Mohanan, T. (1994). Issues in word order. In M. Butt, T. H. King, & G. Ramchand (Eds.), Perspectives on word order in South Asian languages. Stanford: CSLI.Google Scholar
  28. Nakayama, M. (1995). Scrambling and probe recognition. In R. Mazuka & N. Nagai (Eds.), Japanese sentence processing. Hillsdale, HJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  29. Nakayama, M. (1999). Sentence processing. In M. Tsujimura (Ed.), The handbook of Japanese linguistics (pp. 398–424). Malden, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  30. Nation, K., Adams, J. W., Bower-Crane, C. A., & Snowling, M. J. (1999). Working memory deficits in poor comprehenders reflect underlying language impairments. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 73, 139–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Ni, W., Fodor, J. D., Crain, S., & Shankweiler, D. (1998). Anomaly detection: Eye movement patterns. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 27, 515–540.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Nicol, J., & Swinney, D. (1989). The role of structure in coreference assignment during sentence comprehension. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 18, 5–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Pechmann, T., Uszkoreit, H., Engelkamp, J., & Zerbst, D. (1994). Word order in the German middle field: Linguistic theory and psycholinguistic evidence (CLAUS report no. 43).  Germany: Department of Computational Linguistics, Saarland University.Google Scholar
  34. Rosler, F., Pechmann, T., Streb, J., Roder, B., & Hennighausen, E. (1998). Parsing of sentences in a language with varying word order: Word-by-word variations of processing demands are revealed by event-related brain potentials. Journal of Memory and Language, 38, 150–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Schlesewsky, M., Bornkessel, I., & Frisch, S. (2003). The neurophysiological basis of word order variations in German. Brain and Language, 86, 116–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Sekerina, I. (1997). The syntax and processing of Russian scrambled constructions. Unpublished Ph.D Dissertation, City University of New York, NY.Google Scholar
  37. Sekerina, I. (2003). Scrambling processing: Dependencies, complexity, and constraints. In S. Karimi (Ed.), Word order and scrambling (pp. 301–324). UK: Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Sugisaki, K. (2008). Early acquisition of basic word order in Japanese. Language Acquisition, 15, 183–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Tamaoka, K., Sakai, H., Kawahara, J., & Miyoaka, Y. (2003). The effects of phrase-length order and scrambling in the processing of visually presented Japanese sentences. Journal of Psycholinguistics Research, 32, 431–454.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Wexler, K. (1998). Very early parameter setting and the unique checking constraint: A new explanation of the optional infinitive stage. Lingua, 106, 23–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Weyerts, H., Penke, M., Munte, T. F., Heinze, H. J., & Clahsen, H. (2002). Word order in sentence processing: An experimental study of verb placement in German. Journal of Psycholinguistics Research, 31, 211–268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Wolff, S., Schlesewsky, M., Hirotani, M., & Bornkessel-Schlesewsky, I. (2008). The neural mechanisms of word order processing revisited: Electrophysiological evidence from Japanese. Brain and Language, 107, 133–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Yamashita, H. (1997). The effects of word-order and case marking information on the processing of Japanese. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 26, 163–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ramesh K. Mishra
    • 1
  • Aparna Pandey
    • 1
  • Narayanan Srinivasan
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Centre of Behavioural and Cognitive SciencesUniversity of AllahabadAllahabadIndia

Personalised recommendations