Structural/syntactic priming is tendency for speakers to reuse previously-produced sentence structures. Surface syntactic structures (the linear order of syntactic categories, e.g. NP-PP) provide a good account of structural priming data (Bock & Loebell, 1990; Hartsuiker & Westenberg, 2000; Pickering, et al. 2002). One way to explain the bias towards surface syntax is that it is a universal property of the processing architecture. We will argue that structural priming in Japanese does not support this approach.
The dative alternation in Japanese does not distinguish syntactic alternatives with the order of syntactic categories (examples 1 and 2). According to standard linguistic tests (Miyagawa, 1989), the phrases in these examples are all noun-phrases and thus both structures share the same surface structure (NP-NP-NP-VERB). If priming occurs with the Japanese dative alternation, it is not due to surface syntax.
Modeled on Bock & Loebell's experiment 1, we compared two Japanese dative structures (accusative-dative and dative-accusative) and a transitive structure that had a locative phrase (locative-accusative) that is marked identically to the dative goal. Patient, goal, and location nouns were all inanimate. Disguised as a memory task, sentences were presented rapidly as in Potter & Lombardi (1998). The fast presentation induced speakers to reformulate their utterances, and the resulting utterance was sensitive to structural priming.
Speakers changed the accusative-dative targets to dative-accusatives more often after dative-accusative primes than after accusative-dative primes, showing that priming can occur without surface syntactic differences. Furthermore, speakers were less likely to change to dative-accusative after locative-accusative primes compared to dative-accusative primes. This is surprising given that prepositional locatives (with transitive verbs) prime similarly to prepositional datives in English (Bock & Loebell, 1990).
The results suggest that Japanese speakers are sensitive to different elements (possibilities include thematic roles, syntactic functions, verb-type) than English speakers. These results are difficult to reconcile with architectural limits on the types of representations that influence priming. Rather it is more congruent with an approach in which language learning structures language processing (Chang, et al. 2003, March).
Changes to dative-accusative structures (proportions and counts)
Bock, K., & Loebell, H. (1990). Framing sentences. Cognition, 35, 1-39.
Chang, F. Dell, G. S., Bock, K. (2003). Comprehending structural priming: A connectionist learning account. Poster presented at the CUNY Sentence Processing Conference. Boston, MA.
Hartsuiker, R. J., & Westenberg, C. (2000). Word order priming in written and spoken sentence production. Cognition, 75, 1-13.
Miyagawa, S. (1989). Structure and Case Marking in Japanese. Syntax and Semantics, 22. Academic Press, New York.
Pickering, M.J., Branigan, H.P., & McLean, J.F. (2002). Constituent structure is formulated in one stage. Journal of Memory and Language, 46 (3), 586-605.
Potter, M. C. & Lombardi, L. (1998). Syntactic priming in immediate recall of sentences. Journal of Memory and Language, 38, 265-282.