Space, agency and word order: Evidence from Greek


We examined the role of spatial representations and word order on thematic role assignment in Greek. Previous studies suggest that spatial representations influence thematic role assignment; agent is typically depicted on the left, and patient on the right. Here, we address this issue using a language with flexible word order which allows us to manipulate sentence structure (SVO–OVS) orthogonally to thematic role. Greek speakers heard SVO/OVS sentences while viewing depictions of actions involving two characters and they judged whether sentence and picture matched in meaning. The agent’s position in the picture was directly manipulated. The results support the effect of left bias on language processing. However, this bias may be better understood when its interaction with other sources of information and language-specific constraints are taken into account. Theories of prediction may help us illuminate how spatial biases and linguistic factors interactively affect the way we process our world.

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