What can wh-questions tell us about real-time language production: Evidence from English and Mandarin

Monica Do, Elsi Kaiser, Pengchen Zhao


We present two visual-world eye-tracking experiments investigating how speakers begin structuring their messages for linguistic utterances, a process known as linguistic encoding. Specifically, we focus on when speakers first linearize the abstract elements of their messages (positional processing) and when they first assign a grammatical role to those elements (functional processing). Experiment 1 de-coupled the process of linearization from grammatical role assignment using English object wh-questions, where the subject is no longer sentence initial. Experiment 2 used Mandarin declaratives and questions, which have the same word order, to test the extent to which findings from Experiment 1 were linked to information focus associated with wh-questions. We find evidence of both grammatical role assignment and linearization emerging around 400-600 ms, but we do not find evidence of the +/- wh distinction influencing eye-movements during that same time window.


sentence production; visual world eye-tracking; wh-questions; linguistic encoding; sentence formulation

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.3765/plsa.v3i1.4344

Copyright (c) 2018 Monica Do, Elsi Kaiser, Pengchen Zhao

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