Prediction in SVO and SOV languages: Processing and typological considerations

Paul E. Engelhardt, Luna Filipovic, John A. Hawkins

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In this study, we tested the possibility that different word orders engender different processing preferences. Our key hypothesis was that a head-initial language like English (SVO) allows more prediction compared to a head-final language like Japanese (SOV). In Experiment 1, English and Japanese native speakers completed a cloze task in which they heard a sentence fragment (SV_ in English and SO_ in Japanese) and had to complete it with the word they thought best. We assessed cloze probability of the words produced and voice onset times. Experiment 2 examined written completions in English, in which we compared the cloze probabilities in SV_ fragments versus OS_ fragments. Following the central hypothesis, this experiment allowed us to determine (within language) whether there is more prediction from a noun and verb compared to two nouns. Finally, in Experiment 3, we compared written completions in English and Japanese, in which the stimuli given to participants were identical (SV_ in English and S_V in Japanese). Results across all three experiments were consistent with greater prediction in English. We argue that prediction is one important factor in processing, that it is relied on more in English than in Japanese, and that prediction will be especially favored in languages like English in which the verb regularly precedes its direct object.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349-383
Number of pages35
Issue number2
Early online date28 Dec 2023
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024


  • cross-linguistic
  • prediction
  • language typology
  • cloze probability
  • voice onset time
  • crosslinguistic

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