Processing gap-filler dependencies in Chinese: What does it tell us about semantic processing?

Shukhan Ng, Nicole Y.Y. Wicha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


This study investigates, through gap-filler processing in Mandarin Chinese, whether reanalysis is undertaken to fulfill semantic requirements, even at the expense of structural economy. The construction of interest is Verb. +. Noun1. +. de. +. Noun2, which contains a subject gap and can be ambiguous between a left-branching (relative clause (RC)) and a right-branching (main clause or subject clause) analysis. In the RC analysis, N2 is the filler for the gap. In the right-branching analysis, the gap may co-refer with a noun in the main clause that follows N2 or is interpreted contextually. Sentence completion results showed that the right-branching analysis was initially preferred but the RC analysis increased substantially at the end of the construction. Self-paced reading results indicated that disambiguation in favor of the right-branching analysis in the sentence segment following V. +. N1. +. de. +. N2 produced a longer reading time. These findings suggest that the Chinese parser will trade a structurally simpler (right-branching analysis) for a more complex analysis (RC) to provide a filler for an identified gap and therefore the semantic content for an argument. The overall implication is a human sentence processor allows for reanalysis if it can produce a more meaningful output.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16-35
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
StatePublished - Jul 2014


  • Gap-filler dependency
  • Mandarin chinese
  • Non-deterministic parsing
  • Relative clause
  • Semantic processing
  • Structural reanalysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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