Jessie and Gary or Gary and Jessie?: Cognitive Accessibility Predicts the Order in English and Japanese

AbstractNotably, while English tends to prefer shorter before longer complements ("explained to us a very clear effect"), Japanese displays the opposite tendency. Far less cross-linguistic work has investigated possible differences in the ordering of nouns within conjunctions (binomials), although a corpus study suggests that the same factors predict binomial ordering in Japanese and English. To investigate the issue experimentally, we report Japanese and English speakers’ productions of names of the members of couples that they knew personally. Results confirm that conceptual accessibility is the most important factor in the ordering of familiar name binomials in both languages. That is, both groups tended to name the member they felt closer to first. Length (syllables/mora) was not a significant predictor in either language. Differences in the preferred order of verbs’ complements are then attributable to other factors, possibly a very general preference to minimize the average distance between semantically related elements.


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