Subject/object processing asymmetries in Korean relative clauses: Evidence from ERP data


Subject relative (SR) clauses have a reliable processing advantage in VO languages like English in which relative clauses (RCs) follow the head noun. The question is whether this is also routinely true in OV languages like Japanese and Korean, in which RCs precede the head noun. We conducted an event-related brain potential (ERP) study of Korean RCs to test whether the SR advantage manifests in brain responses, and to tease apart the typological factors that might contribute to these responses. Our results suggest that brain responses to RCs are remarkably similar in VO and OV languages. Our results also suggest that the marking of the right edge of the RC in Chinese (Yang et al. 2010) and Korean and the absence of such marking in Japanese (Ueno & Garnsey 2008) affect the response to the following head noun. The consistent SR advantage found in ERP studies lends further support to a universal subject preference in the processing of relative clauses.