Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton October 7, 2021

Correlating cognitive effort and noun role in spoken Japanese

Kevin Heffernan EMAIL logo


Models of language processing assume that the cognitive cost to integrate a noun with a verb depends on the distance between the noun and the verb. Such models predict that subjects require more cognitive effort than objects in SOV languages, such as Japanese. This study tests that prediction by investigating apparent cognitive effort differences in topic, nominative, accusative, dative, genitive, and predicative noun usage, using two corpora of spoken Japanese. A cognitive effort index score was determined for each text in the two corpora. The correlations between index scores and usage rates for each grammatical role were determined. Accusative, dative, and genitive noun usage significantly correlated with cognitive effort index scores, but topic, nominative, and predicate noun usage rates did not. These results suggest that the cognitive cost of noun integration depends not only on distance but also on the grammatical role of the noun.

Corresponding author: Kevin Heffernan, School of Policy Studies, Kwansei Gakuin University, 2-1 Gakuen, Sanda, Hyogo, 669-1337, Japan, E-mail:

Award Identifier / Grant number: 17K02761


An earlier version of was presented at the fourth Asia Pacific Corpus Linguistics Conference, held in Takamatsu City, Japan from Sept. 17 to 19, 2018. I am indebted to participants for valuable feedback, and to the many research assistants who recorded, transcribed, and corrected the KVJ corpus data. I am also indebted to the three reviewers who pointed out many errors, inconsistencies, and shortcomings. This research was sponsored by Grant in Aid for Scientific Research (C) 17K02761 from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. The KVJ corpus data and the Python scripts used in this study may be downloaded from


The following four speech samples were extracted from approximately the midpoint of four texts in the Corpus of Kansai Vernacular Japanese. The texts were first ranked from highest cognitive effort score to lowest cognitive effort score. Two pairs of texts were then chosen so that each pair of speakers matched for age and gender, but maximally differed in their cognitive effort rank. The speech of the interviewers is included for completeness, and is indicated by [i]. The speech of the speaker is indicated by a capital letter.

Speaker A

Text: KSJ062, 18-year-old female

Cognitive effort rank: 5

[i] なるほど。じゃあ、もう一つの話のこと聞かして。 [A] うん。空色スケッチブックの方は、あれは私が中三の時に連載してた、文芸同好会の、月一で出してたんやけど、連載してた話で、これもやっぱりいい意味でも悪い意味でも、すごい、心に残る話やったな、って思う。当時中三の文芸同好会は、私が主宰でやったんやけど。まあ、先輩らが卒業してから、うちらの代に移った時に、まあ、私がなんか知らんけど会長に、いって、やってたら、まあそれ最終的は小説になったんやけど、最初はそれ漫画やったんよ。


[i] Oh, I see. Tell me another story. [A] Yeah. Well, the sky blue sketchbook, that was published when I was in grade 9, in the Arts and Literature Club, they put out a booklet on the first of every month. I thought that the published stories were stories that really left an impression, in both good ways and bad ways. At that time, I was the club president. Well, when sempai had all graduated and it became our turn, you know, I’m sure why, but it became me. Anyway, in the end that became a novel, but at first it was a comic.

Speaker B

Text: KSJ124, 17-year-old female

Cognitive effort rank: 112

[B] これ、男子や。 [i] 貸して。 [B] これ、ほら。 [i] なんで? [B] 県やからちゃう? [i] そうや普通に、これ四つ角関係無いやつちゃうん。 [B] そうなん。抽選だけってこと? [i] 抽選やと思う。でも、一番いいところの、やっぱ運だけはもってんな。 [B] 先生? [i] やっぱ、日ごろの行いやで。だってさ、被ったことないもん。被ったところてかさ、なんかその、もう絶対負けるところにあんま行かへん。 [B] それ嫌じゃない?だって、ほんとはずれとったら、ベスト4までいけたかもしれへんのにさ。 [i] そやで。そやで。


[B] This is a guy. [i] Give it here. [B] Look, there. [i] Why is that? [B] Maybe because it was prefectural? [i] Oh yeah, normally, this has nothing to do due with the four corners, right? [B] Yeah, you mean by draw only? [i] I think the teams were drawn. But we got really lucky one time. [B] The teacher? [i] Just in our regular matches, we were never beaten. I mean, like, we never really went up against a team that we would for sure lose against. [B] But doesn’t that suck? Like, if you miss those ones, then you can make it to the top four. [i] Yeah, totally.

Speaker C

Text: KSJ137, 63-year-old male

Cognitive effort rank: 7

[C] で、兵庫県は結構強かってん。いつもベスト3には入るチームやったからもう5月の辺りからクラブチームが週末になったら土日、土日合宿してくんや。 [i] まー秋に向けてね。[C] 秋に向けて。ほんで強かったし。で、僕が入って監督に変わってすぐに優勝したりして、その翌年もその大会を目指して合宿してたらいつも合宿所まーちょっと神戸の民宿の方に合宿所があるねんけどそこの合宿所で土曜日ね仕事、まーあの頃はまだ半ドンで土曜日言うても午前中は勤務で、で、昼から休みで日曜日休みと。


[C] Hyogo prefecture was quite strong. We were a team that always made it to the top three, and so from about May onwards, on the weekend the club team did an intensive training camp for the weekend. [i] Getting ready for the fall. [C] Getting ready for the fall. And so that’s why we were strong. And so soon after I joined and became the coach, we won the championship, and so the next year too, we were trying to take home the trophy again, and so we went to our usual place. There is a training camp out in Kobe, and so on Saturdays and Sundays, I mean, at the time, Saturdays were half-days so there was still work in the morning, but then the afternoon was off and Sundays too.

Speaker D

Text: KSJ137, 66-year-old male

Cognitive effort rank: 117

[i] 植物育てるとかはあった?理科とか、あさがおとか。それは個人ででもいいけど。 [D] 小学校のときに、なんだっけ、クロッカス。 [i] クロッカス? [D] 球根をなんか育てた。なんか買わされて、育ててた覚えはある。 [i] それは、観察日記をつけてね、みたいな感じ?[D] そんな感じ。 [i] おしゃれやね、クロッカス。 [D] おしゃれなんか知らんけど。 [i] 私らはあさがおとかやったから。 [D] 楽でいいやん。ずっと置いとくだけやん。 [i] そっか。球根で。観察日記とか書いた? [D] 書いたんちゃう?覚えてない。


[i] Have you ever grown any plants? As a science project, grow morning glories? Or just on your own? [D] Yeah, in primary school, what was it, crocus. [i] Crocus? [D] We grew them from bulbs. I remember having to buy one and grow it. [i] So did you keep an observation journal or something like that? [D] Yeah, something like that. [i] Crocuses are handsome. [D] I don’t know if you’d call them handsome. [i] We grew morning glories. [D] Those are so easy. You just put them there. [i] Really? From a bulb, eh? So, did you have to keep an observation journal? [D] We did that, didn’t we? I really don’t remember.


Adelman, James S., Gordon D. Brown & José F. Quesada. 2006. Contextual diversity, not word frequency, determines word-naming and lexical decision times. Psychological Science 17(9). 814–823. in Google Scholar

Ariel, Mira. 2006. Accessibility theory. In Keith Brown (ed.), Encyclopedia of language and linguistics, 15–18. Oxford: Elsevier. in Google Scholar

Bever, Thomas. 1970. The cognitive basis for linguistic structures. In John R. Hayes (ed.), Cognition and the development of language, 279–360. New York: John Wiley.Search in Google Scholar

Biber, Douglas, Stig Johansson, Geoffrey Leech, Susan Conrad & Edward Finegan. 1999. Longman grammar of spoken and written English. Essex, England: Longman.Search in Google Scholar

Brysbaert, Marc, Paweł Mandera & Emmanuel Keuleers. 2018. The word frequency effect in word processing: An updated review. Current Directions in Psychological Science 27(1). 45–50. in Google Scholar

Caplan, David & Gloria S. Waters. 1999. Verbal working memory and sentence comprehension. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 22(1). 77–94. in Google Scholar

Clancy, Patricia M. 1982. Written and spoken style in Japanese narratives. In Deborah Tannen (ed.), Spoken and written language, 55–76. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing.Search in Google Scholar

Cumming, Geoff. 2012. Understanding the new statistics: Effect sizes, confidence intervals, and meta-analysis. New York and London: Routledge.10.4324/9780203807002Search in Google Scholar

Ellis, Nick C. 2002. Frequency effects in language processing. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 24(2). 143–188. in Google Scholar

Farmer, Thomas A., Jennifer B. Misyak & Morten H. Christiansen. 2012. Individual differences in sentence processing. In Michael Spivey, Ken McRae & Marc Joanisse (eds.), The Cambridge handbook of psycholinguistics, 353–364. New York: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9781139029377.018Search in Google Scholar

Fedzechkina, Maryia, Elissa L. Newport & T. Florian Jaeger. 2017. Balancing effort and information transmission during language acquisition: Evidence from word order and case marking. Cognitive Science 41(2). 416–446. in Google Scholar

Ferreira, Fernanda, Karl G.D. Bailey & Vittoria Ferraro. 2002. Good-enough representations in language comprehension. Current Directions in Psychological Science 11(1). 11–15. in Google Scholar

Ferreira, Fernanda & Nikole D. Patson. 2007. The ‘good enough’ approach to language comprehension. Language and Linguistics Compass 1(1‐2). 71–83. in Google Scholar

Fry, John. 2003. Ellipsis and wa-marking in Japanese conversation. New York, NY and London, England: Routledge.10.4324/9780203484036Search in Google Scholar

Fujii, Noriko & Tsuyoshi Ono. 2000. The occurrence and non-occurrence of the Japanese direct object marker o in conversation. Studies in Language 24(1). 1–39. in Google Scholar

Futrell, Richard, Kyle Mahowald & Edward Gibson. 2015. Large-scale evidence of dependency length minimization in 37 languages. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112(33). 10336–10341. in Google Scholar

Gibson, Edward. 2000. Dependency locality theory: A distance-based theory of linguistic complexity. In Alec Marantz, Yasushi Miyashita & Wayne O’Neil (eds.), Image, language, brain: Papers from the First Mind Articulation Project Symposium, 95–126. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Search in Google Scholar

Gibson, Edward & H. H. Iris Wu. 2013. Processing Chinese relative clauses in context. Language & Cognitive Processes 28(1-2). 125–155. in Google Scholar

Gries, Stefan Th. 2008. Dispersions and adjusted frequencies in corpora. International Journal of Corpus Linguistics 13(4). 403–437. in Google Scholar

Grodner, Daniel & Edward Gibson. 2005. Consequences of the serial nature of linguistic input for sentenial complexity. Cognitive Science 29(2). 261–290. in Google Scholar

Haviland, Susan E. & Herbert H. Clark. 1974. What’s new? Acquiring new information as a process in comprehension. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 13(5). 512–521. in Google Scholar

Heffernan, Kevin. 2012. Kansaiben kōpus no shōkai [introducing the corpus of Kansai vernacular Japanese]. Sōgōseisaku Kenkyū 41. 157–164.Search in Google Scholar

Heffernan, Kevin. 2019. The grammar of Kansai vernacular Japanese. Nishinomiya, Japan: K.G. University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Heffernan, Kevin, Yusuke Imanishi & Masaru Honda. 2018. Showcasing the interaction of generative and emergent linguistic knowledge with case marker omission in spoken Japanese. Glossa: A journal of general linguistics 3(1). 71–24. 72. in Google Scholar

Just, Marcel A. & Patricia A. Carpenter. 1980. A theory of reading: From eye fixations to comprehension. Psychological Review 87(4). 329–354. in Google Scholar

Kyoto University Graduate School of Informatics & Nihon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation. 2013. MeCab (0.996). [Computer software]. (accessed 12 July 2013).Search in Google Scholar

Laliberté, Etienne. 2011. Metacor: Meta-Analysis of correlation coefficients (1.0-2.1). [R package]. (accessed 3 October 2019).Search in Google Scholar

Maekawa, Kikuo. 2003. Corpus of Spontaneous Japanese: Its design and evaluation. In Proceedings of the ISCA & IEEE Workshop on Spontaneous Speech Processing and Recognition (SSPR 2003), 7–12. (accessed 14 October 2019).Search in Google Scholar

Matsuda, Kenjirō. 2000. Tōkyō hōgen joshi o no shiyō ni kakawaru gengoteki shoyōin no sūryōteki kenshō [A quantitative verification of linguistic factors affecting the use of the case particle o in Tokyo Japanese]. Kokugogaku 51(1). 61–76.Search in Google Scholar

McDonald, Scott A. & Richard C. Shillcock. 2001. Rethinking the word frequency effect: The neglected role of distributional information in lexical processing. Language and Speech 44(3). 295–322. in Google Scholar

Nakatani, Kentaro & Edward Gibson. 2010. An on-line study of Japanese nesting complexity. Cognitive Science 34(1). 94–112. in Google Scholar

Nelson, Matthew J., Imen El Karoui, Kristof Giber, Xiaofang Yang, Laurent Cohen, Hilda Koopman, Sydney S. Cash, Lionel Naccache, John T. Hale, Christophe Pallier & Stanislas Dehaene. 2017. Neurophysiological dynamics of phrase-structure building during sentence processing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114(18). E3669–E3678. in Google Scholar

Scontras, Gregory, William Badecker, Lisa Shank, Eunice Lim & Evelina Fedorenko. 2015. Syntactic complexity effects in sentence production. Cognitive Science 39(3). 559–583. in Google Scholar

Schulze, Ralf. 2004. Meta-analysis: A comparison of approaches. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe & Huber.Search in Google Scholar

Tomlin, Russell S. 1986. Basic word order: Functional principles. London: Croom Helm.Search in Google Scholar

Warren, Martin & Maggie Leung. 2016. Do collocational frameworks have local grammars? International Journal of Corpus Linguistics 21(1). 1–27. in Google Scholar

Yamashita, Hiroko & Franklin Chang. 2001. “Long before short” preference in the production of a head-final language. Cognition: International Journal of Cognitive Science 81(2). B45–B55. in Google Scholar

Yoshizumi, Yukiko. 2016. A Canadian perspective on Japanese-English language contact. Ottawa, Canada: University of Ottawa dissertation.Search in Google Scholar

Published Online: 2021-10-07
Published in Print: 2021-11-25

© 2021 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

Downloaded on 9.12.2022 from
Scroll Up Arrow