English is a language with a relative fixed word order. Free word order languages such as German and Japanese, different from English, is that case marking indicates whether a noun phrase is the subject or the object in a sentence. In these languages, an object-noun can change its position in the sentence (object-before-subject) and is still grammatical.
A study using German as the experimental language investigated syntactic complexity Scrambling by parametrically varying the number of permutations in a sentence (Friederici et al., 2006b). Object noun phrases (indirect object = IO, direct object = DO) were positioned in front of the subject noun (S) as in sentences (b) to (c), leading to an increase in syntactic complexity. The permutation of the noun phrase in such sentences is called “Scrambling”. (Nominative case = NOM, dative case = DAT and accusative case = ACC).
Sentences (a) to (b) are taken from Friederici et al., 2006b and displayed as in Friederici (2011).
Figure 7 indicates that the brain activation in BA 44 as part of Broca’s area increased systematically as the syntactic complexity increased.