The Effect of Present Activity Verbs on Processing Structural Ambiguity in Japanese Garden-Path Sentences

Volume 17
Issue 3
Yoshie Yamamori
This paper addresses the semantics of the present form (known as the -ru form) of activity verbs in Japanese and examines the effect of these verbs in contrast to that of the inflected form (the -ta form). Garden-path sentences involving an ambiguity between a simple sentential reading and a relative clause reading generally show a preference for the former reading; when the preferred reading proves to be inconsistent with the correct reading of the sentence, the ensuing processing difficulty is known as the ‘garden-path effect.’ Interestingly, it has been observed that the effect is reduced in sentences that contain activity verbs in the present -ru form in the adnominal clause. One major problem that arises in the interpretation of the -ru form in subordinate clauses is that it is temporally ambiguous, and may be interpreted as belonging to the matrix clause instead. To date, no uniform analysis has been developed to characterize the semantic nature of the -ru form in subordinate clauses. This study will develop a semantics of the -ru form. The data revealed some interesting findings suggesting some logical characteristics of the -ru form. The results help to clarify how the semantic nature of the -ru form exerts an effect on the processing of garden-path sentences, and to show that, contrary to what had been assumed in the absence of semantic research into the embedding verb, the activity verbs ending in the -ru form extend the worlds against which a given proposition is evaluated, which has the effect of reducing the GP effect.

Keywords: garden-path sentences, garden-path effect, activity verbs, present, -ru form, sentence processing, Japanese