Journal of Cultural Cognitive Science

, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 257–283 | Cite as

The interpretation and prediction of event participants in Mandarin verb-final active and passive sentences

  • Johannes GerwienEmail author
Research Paper


The role of the markers bèi and bǎ for thematic role assignment in Chinese NP1-marker-NP2-V sentences was investigated in adult native speakers. While word order is identical, thematic roles are distributed reversely in these structures [patient-bèi-agent, (passive); agent--patient, (active)]. If Mandarin speakers interpret NP1 as the agent of an event, viewing behavior was expected to differ between conditions for NP1-objects, indicating the revision of initial role assignment in the case of bèi. Given reliability differences between markers for role assignment, differences in anticipatory eye movements to NP2-objects were expected. 16 visual stimuli were combined with 16 sets of sentence pairs; one pair partner featuring a bèi-, the other a bǎ-structure. Growth curve analysis of 28 participants’ eye movements revealed no attention differences for NP1-objects. However, anticipatory eye movements to NP2-objects differed. This suggests that a stable event representation is constructed only after NP1 and the marker have been processed, but before NP2. As a control variable, syntactic/semantic complexity of NP1 was manipulated. The differences obtained indicate that the visual world paradigm is in principle sensitive to detect language-induced processing costs, which was taken to validate the null-finding for NP1. Interestingly, NP1 complexity also modulated predictive processing. Findings are discussed with respect to a differentiation between interpretative and predictive aspects incremental processing.


Predictive processing Eye movements Thematic role assignment Agent-first strategy Mandarin passive Semantic complexity 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest. 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ruprecht Karls Universität HeidelbergHeidelbergGermany

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