Configurationality and Mental Grammars: Sentences in Sinhala with Re- Duplicated Expressions

MG Lalith Ananda, KB Prabath


Studies on Sinhala language (Indo-Aryan (SOV), spoken in Sri Lanka by the majority Sinhalese) concerning word order have posited different arguments where some researchers concluded that Sinhala is a nonconfigurational
language, while some others argue for its configurational structure. The arguments for nonconfiguraionality can be attributed to the scrambling effects (free word-order possibility) in Sinhala which shows different ordering of constituents without affecting grammaticality. However, due to different semanticpragmatic inferences provided by differently ordered sentences, Sinhala language may possess a configurational structure despite the surface manifestation of the free-word-order phenomenon. Using the nature of scrambling effects, this experimental study examined whether sentences in the canonical word order containing re-duplicated expressions could be processed faster than those with different word orders, and therefore to what extent such orders form an integral part of one’s mental grammar, the I-language. The sample consisted of 20 native speakers of Sinhala and the data consisted of 60 Sinhala sentences with such reduplicated expressions. The presentation of the stimulus was controlled by a computer program DMDX (version Both “yes” responses, and “no” responses were presented in randomly in the centre of the computer screen 600ms after the appearance of a line of asterisks ‘******’ at the eye fixation point on the screen. The analysis confirmed that the reaction times were incongruent between different word orders: Subject-Object-Verb ordered (SOV/canonical) sentences were processed faster. Therefore, this study concluded that Sinhala sentences consisting of reduplicated expressions possess a configurational syntactic structure in terms of speed of processing and thus form part of one’s mental grammar whereas non-canonical word orders are the result of conscious syntactic transformations.

KEYWORDS: Configurationality, scrambling, mental grammar

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International Journal of multidisciplinary Studies, University of Sri Jayewardnepura, Sri Lanka