Ambiguity in the processing of Mandarin Chinese relative clauses: One factor cannot explain it all

Michael P. Mansbridge, Katsuo Tamaoka, Kexin Xiong, Rinus G. Verdonschot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


This study addresses the question of whether native Mandarin Chinese speakers process and comprehend subject-extracted relative clauses (SRC) more readily than objectextracted relative clauses (ORC) in Mandarin Chinese. Presently, this has been a hotly debated issue, with various studies producing contrasting results. Using two eye-tracking experiments with ambiguous and unambiguous RCs, this study shows that both ORCs and SRCs have different processing requirements depending on the locus and time course during reading. The results reveal that ORC reading was possibly facilitated by linear/temporal integration and canonicity. On the other hand, similarity-based interference made ORCs more difficult, and expectation-based processing was more prominent for unambiguous ORCs. Overall, RC processing in Mandarin should not be broken down to a single ORC (dis)advantage, but understood as multiple interdependent factors influencing whether ORCs are either more difficult or easier to parse depending on the task and context at hand.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0178369
JournalPLoS One
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Jun 1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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