Journal of East Asian Linguistics

, Volume 24, Issue 2, pp 113–148 | Cite as

Uncertainty in processing relative clauses across East Asian languages

  • Jiwon Yun
  • Zhong Chen
  • Tim Hunter
  • John Whitman
  • John Hale
Open Access


The processing difficulty profile for relative clauses in Chinese, Japanese and Korean represents a challenge for theories of human parsing. We address this challenge using a grammar-based complexity metric, one that reflects a minimalist analysis of relative clauses for all three languages as well as structure-dependent corpus distributions. Together, these define a comprehender’s degree of uncertainty at each point in a sentence. We use this idea to quantify the intuition that people do comprehension work as they incrementally resolve ambiguity, word by word. We find that downward changes to this quantitative measure of uncertainty derive observed processing contrasts between Subject- and Object-extracted relative clauses. This demonstrates that the complexity metric, in conjunction with a minimalist grammar and corpus-based weights, accounts for the widely-observed Subject Advantage.


Relative clause Information theory Minimalism Chinese Japanese Korean 

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© The Author(s) 2015

Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and the source are credited.

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jiwon Yun
    • 1
  • Zhong Chen
    • 2
  • Tim Hunter
    • 3
  • John Whitman
    • 4
  • John Hale
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsStony Brook UniversityStony BrookUSA
  2. 2.Department of Modern Languages and CulturesRochester Institute of TechnologyRochesterUSA
  3. 3.Institute of LinguisticsUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  4. 4.Department of LinguisticsCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  5. 5.Department of LinguisticsCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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