Sentence planning and production in Murrinhpatha, an Australian 'free word order' language

Nordlinger, R., Garrido Rodriguez, G., & Kidd, E. (2022). Sentence planning and production in Murrinhpatha, an Australian 'free word order' language. Language, 98(2), 187-220. Retrieved from
Psycholinguistic theories are based on a very small set of unrepresentative languages, so it is as yet unclear how typological variation shapes mechanisms supporting language use. In this article we report the first on-line experimental study of sentence production in an Australian free word order language: Murrinhpatha. Forty-six adult native speakers of Murrinhpatha described a series of unrelated transitive scenes that were manipulated for humanness (┬▒human) in the agent and patient roles while their eye movements were recorded. Speakers produced a large range of word orders, consistent with the language having flexible word order, with variation significantly influenced by agent and patient humanness. An analysis of eye movements showed that Murrinhpatha speakers' first fixation on an event character did not alone determine word order; rather, early in speech planning participants rapidly encoded both event characters and their relationship to each other. That is, they engaged in relational encoding, laying down a very early conceptual foundation for the word order they eventually produced. These results support a weakly hierarchical account of sentence production and show that speakers of a free word order language encode the relationships between event participants during earlier stages of sentence planning than is typically observed for languages with fixed word orders.
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