[PS-2.59] Reading wh-in-situ questions in Mandarin and French: a cross-linguistic study

Pablos, L. 1, 2 , Yang, Y. . 1, 2 , Gryllia, S. 1 , Doetjes, J. . 1 & Cheng, L. L. . 1, 2

1 Leiden University Centre for Linguistics
2 Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition

Cross-linguistically, languages employ three major strategies for formulating questions. They allow (1) only wh-fronting (e.g., English), (2) only wh-in-situ (e.g., Mandarin) or (3) both wh-fronting and wh-in-situ (e.g., French). We conducted a comparative study on the processing of wh-in-situ questions in Mandarin and French to examine (a) if readers expect in-situ questions to the same degree as declaratives without any prosodic cues; (b) if this expectation would differ depending on their strategy in formulating wh-questions. We conducted four self-paced reading experiments (n=161) in French and Mandarin with comparable stimuli, where we examined the reading time differences at the wh-phrase position with complex (which woman) and simplex (who) wh-phrases, in comparison to its definite (the woman/Mary) and indefinite (a woman/someone) declarative counterparts. Results (LMM: condition fixed factor; subject/item random factors) show that both questions are significantly slower than indefinites in French. In Mandarin, questions with a complex wh-phrase are significantly slower than indefinites at the wh-word position, whereas questions with a simplex wh-phrase are faster than definites. Results suggest that, in the absence of prosodic cues, the expectation of wh-in-situ questions is lower (reflected by slower RTs) than that of declaratives containing indefinites, regardless of each language's question formulation strategy.