Korean wh-Island Sentences: Individual Differences in Acceptability Judgments and Working Memory

Hye-ryeong Hahn 1 ,
Author Information & Copyright
1Seowon University
*Corresponding Author : Professor, Department of English Education Seowon University Musimseoro 377-3, Seowon-gu, Cheongju 28674, Chungcheongbukdo, Korea, E-mail:

ⓒ Copyright 2019 Language Education Institute, Seoul National University. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Received: Jul 01, 2019 ; Revised: Jul 31, 2019 ; Accepted: Aug 14, 2019

Published Online: Aug 31, 2019


While it has been claimed that scrambling in East Asian languages is not subject to wh-island effects, studies into theoretical and experimental syntax have suggested that native Korean speakers vary in their acceptance of island constructions. This study addresses the individual differences in the acceptability judgments of Korean wh-island sentences in terms of working memory. In order to determine if the varied judgments of acceptability are attributable to differences in individuals’ working memory, an acceptability judgment test on various Korean wh-island constructions, and two memory span tests—a reading span test and a digit span test—were administered to 66 adult Korean native speakers. Pearson correlation analysis and a factor analysis were then performed on the participants’ acceptability judgment ratings and memory spans. The results revealed that the individuals’ acceptability judgments for wh-island sentences were not correlated with their reading span or digit span, although the group’s mean acceptability of the constructions gradually decreased as their expected processing complexity increased. These findings indicate that differences in individuals’ working memory are not the source of the observed acceptability variation.

Keywords: wh-island, Korean; acceptability judgment; individual differences; working memory



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