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Learning multiple rules simultaneously: affixes are more salient than reduplications

Gervain, J. & Endress, A. (2017). Learning multiple rules simultaneously: affixes are more salient than reduplications. Memory & Cognition, 45(3), doi: 10.3758/s13421-016-0669-9


Language learners encounter numerous opportunities to learn regularities, but need to decide which of these regularities to learn, because some are not productive in their native language. Here, we present an account of rule learning based on perceptual and memory primitives (Endress, Dehaene-Lambertz, & Mehler, 2007; Endress, Nespor, & Mehler, 2009), suggesting that learners preferentially learn regularities that are more salient to them, and that the pattern of salience reflects the frequency of language features across languages. We contrast this view with previous artificial grammar learning research, which suggests that infants “choose” the regularities they learn based on rational, Bayesian criteria (Frank & Tenenbaum, 2011; Gerken, 2006, 2010). In our experiments, adult participants listened to syllable strings starting with a syllable reduplication and always ending with the same “a!x” syllable, or to syllable strings starting with this “a!x” syllable and ending with the “reduplication.” Both a!xation and reduplication are frequently used for morphological marking across languages. We find three crucial results. First, participants learned both regularities simultaneously. Second, a!xation regularities seemed easier to learn than reduplication regularities. Third, regularities in sequence o↵sets were easier to learn than regularities at sequence onsets. We show that these results are inconsistent with previous Bayesian rule learning models, but mesh well with the perceptual or memory primitives view. Further, we show that the pattern of salience revealed in our experiments reflects the distribution of regularities across languages. Ease of acquisition might thus be one determinant of the frequency of regularities across languages.

Publication Type: Article
Subjects: R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
Text - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

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