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Regular version of the site

Article

Subextraction in Japanese and Subject-Object Symmetry

Natural Language and Linguistic Theory. 2019. Vol. 37. No. 2. P. 1-43.
Polinsky M., Omaki A., Fukuda S., Nakao C.

For  a  long  time  Japanese  was  taken  to  be  a  language  lacking  a  subject-object  asymmetry  in
subextraction. Two recent experimental studies have challenged this conclusion suggesting that
Japanese complex NP (CNP) subjects are more opaque to subextraction than CNP objects (Jurka
2010; Jurka et al. 2011). Given the significance of this claim for the cross-linguistic landscape of
subextraction phenomena, this study further explores the nature of subextraction phenomena in
Japanese  with  three  acceptability  judgment  experiments.  We  show  that  overt  subextraction
(scrambling)  out  of  CNP  subjects  and  objects  results  in  similar  acceptability  ratings  once  the
relative weight and order of constituents are properly controlled for. Recent experimental work
which suggested that Japanese has a subject-object asymmetry to subextraction predicted that wh-
in-situ adjuncts should lead to greater degradation for subextraction out of subjects as compared
to subextraction out of objects. To test this prediction, we also present novel experimental data on
wh-in-situ  phrases  inside  subjects  and  objects  in  Japanese.  Our  results  show  that  the
argument/adjunct status of wh-in-situ phrases does not interact with the subject/object status of the
CNPs, further invalidating the recent claims. Together these findings support the traditional view
that Japanese has no subject-object asymmetry in subextraction, whether overt or covert. Having
restored the status of Japanese as a language with no subject-object asymmetry in subextraction,
we discuss possible reasons that could account for the absence of such an asymmetry. We suggest
that the lack of asymmetry is due to Japanese subjects’ inability to satisfy the EPP on T/C; we
further contend that cross-linguistic variation in subject transparency follows from whether or not
the feature D comes from subjects.