How Word-order Constraint Affects Noun Modifying Constructions in Japanese and Chinese

Xiaoman Miao , Ph.D. Candidate, EALC,Stanford University

Japanese and Chinese differ in word order (Japanese is SOV; Chinese is SVO), but they both place modifying clauses prior to the head noun without a relative pronoun (Japanese: [tabeta ‘ate’ [ringo ‘apple’]] ; Chinese: [Chide ‘ate’ [pingguo ‘apple’]] ‘the apple (which) (X) ate’). Several comparative studies on noun modifying constructions (NMCs) in Japanese and Chinese have shown that the major difference between the two languages is that Chinese tends not to place modifying clauses before personal pronouns or proper nouns, while Japanese does. Wang et al. (2009) further claimed that Chinese and Japanese NMCs have different ranges in function: Chinese NMCs are rarely used as constructions equivalent to “non-restrictive” relative clauses. In this paper it is argued that what seems to be the functional difference between Japanese NMCs is motivated by processing constraints such as “The Principle of End Weight” (PEW; Wasow 2002), which is sensitive to the difference in word order between the languages. The head-noun-final structure and PEW contribute to the difficulty of processing long and complex NMCs in Chinese but not in Japanese which has an opposite weight effect (Hawkins 1994). Our data show that even some NMCs of basic “restricting function” could be restricted from processing in Chinese when they are too long and complex; on the contrary, short and simple NMCs such as “non-restrictive” RCs are perfectly acceptable in Chinese. Therefore, constraints are based on the word order rather than function; it is not that Chinese NMCs have limited functions compared to Japanese NMCs, but that word order places more processing constraints on Chinese.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 | 5:15 pm — 6:30 pm
Building 250 - Room 108, Main Quad

Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures