The study of Julia Krebs, Dietmar Roehm and their colleagues Ronnie Wilbur and Evie Malaia, investigates the processing of locally ambiguous argument structures in Austrian Sign Language (ÖGS). Their experiment aimed to examine whether these structures are processed by a similar processing strategy as has been reported for analogous structures of spoken languages. Studies on spoken languages revealed the human parser’s tendency to interpret a sentence-initial syntactically ambiguous argument (which could be either interpreted as subject or object) as the subject. This “subject preference“ leads to reanalysis and thus causes enhanced processing costs during the processing of locally ambiguous object-initial orders. Because the subject preference has been observed in typologically different languages it has been assumed to represent a universal processing strategy. In their ERP study, Julia Krebs and colleagues showed videos of locally ambiguous signed sentences in subject-object-verb (SOV) and object-subject-verb (OSV) word orders to Deaf signers of ÖGS. EEG data indicated higher cognitive load in response to OSV stimuli (i.e. a negative ERP effect for OSV compared to SOV), indicative of syntactic reanalysis cost. Their finding shows that the ‘‘subject preference” strategy is also seen in the processing of ÖGS, supporting the hypothesis that the ‘‘subject”-first strategy is universal and not dependent on the language modality (spoken vs. signed).



New Publication: “Subject preference emerges as cross-modal strategy for linguistic processing”