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An ERP Study of Causative Cleft Construction in Japanese: Evidence for the Preference of Shorter Linear Distance in Sentence Comprehension


This study examined the processing of two types of Japanese causative cleft constructions (subject-gap vs. object-gap) by conducting an event-related brain potential experiment to clarify the processing mechanism of long-distance dependencies. The results demonstrated that the subject-gap constructions elicited larger P600 effects than the object-gap constructions. Based on these findings, we argue that the linear distance rather than the structural distance between the extracted argument (filler) and its original gap position is a crucial factor for determining processing costs of gap-filler dependency in Japanese causative cleft constructions. This argument indicates that (at least) some types of long-distance dependencies are sensitive to linear distance.

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  1. The structural distance is defined in terms of nodes intervening between the filler and its gap as indicated by the black dots.

  2. In their experiment, context was presented to render the use of cleft construction involving focus interpretations to be felicitous.

  3. This problem has also been noted in the study of Japanese relative clauses (Ishizuka et al. 2006; Ono and Ikemoto 2013; Sato et al. 2007).


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This study was supported by a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (#13J04854, PI: Masataka Yano) from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. We are grateful to anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments.

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Correspondence to Masataka Yano.

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Tsutomu Sakamoto passed away during the review process of this paper. However, due to his significant contribution to this study, we acknowledge him as one of the co-authors.

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Yano, M., Sakamoto, T. An ERP Study of Causative Cleft Construction in Japanese: Evidence for the Preference of Shorter Linear Distance in Sentence Comprehension. J Psycholinguist Res 45, 407–421 (2016).

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  • Japanese
  • Sentence comprehension
  • Causative cleft construction
  • Gap-filler dependency
  • Event-related brain potentials (ERPs)