Processing of a Free Word Order Language: The Role of Syntax and Context

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14 Scopus citations


In languages with flexible constituent order (so-called free word order languages), available orders are used to encode given/new distinctions; they therefore differ not only syntactically, but also in their context requirements. In Experiment 1, using a self-paced reading task, we compared Russian S V IO DO (canonical), DO S V IO and DO IO V S constructions in appropriate vs. inappropriate contexts (those that violated their context requirements). The context factor was significant, while the syntax factor was not. The less pronounced context effect evidenced in previous studies (e. g., Kaiser and Trueswell in Cognitioin 94:113-147, 2004) might be due to the use of shorter target sentences and less extensive contexts. We also demonstrated that the slow-down starts at the first contextually inappropriate constituent, which shows that the information about context requirements is taken into account immediately, but that it develops faster on preverbal subjects and postverbal indirect objects (occupying their canonical positions) than on preverbal indirect objects (occupying a noncanonical position, or scrambled). In Experiment 2, these findings were replicated for IO S V DO and IO DO V S orders. S V IO DO orders with a continuation were used to show that there is no additional effect of inappropriate context at the end of the sentence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)291-306
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Psycholinguistic Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2011

Scopus subject areas

  • Linguistics and Language
  • Psychology(all)
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics


  • Context
  • Russian
  • Scrambling
  • Sentence processing
  • Word order

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