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Primitive computations in speech processing

Endress, A. & Mehler, J. (2009). Primitive computations in speech processing. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 62(11), pp. 2187-2209. doi: 10.1080/17470210902783646


Previous research suggests that artificial-language learners exposed to quasi-continuous speech can learn that the first and the last syllables of words have to belong to distinct classes (e.g., Endress & Bonatti, 2007; Peña, Bonatti, Nespor, & Mehler, 2002). The mechanisms of these generalizations, however, are debated. Here we show that participants learn such generalizations only when the crucial syllables are in edge positions (i.e., the first and the last), but not when they are in medial positions (i.e., the second and the fourth in pentasyllabic items). In contrast to the generalizations, participants readily perform statistical analyses also in word middles. In analogy to sequential memory, we suggest that participants extract the generalizations using a simple but specific mechanism that encodes the positions of syllables that occur in edges. Simultaneously, they use another mechanism to track the syllable distribution in the speech streams. In contrast to previous accounts, this model explains why the generalizations are faster than the statistical computations, require additional cues, and break down under different conditions, and why they can be performed at all. We also show that that similar edge-based mechanisms may explain many results in artificial-grammar learning and also various linguistic observations.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology on 23 Sept 2009, available online:
Publisher Keywords: Artificial-grammar learning, Serial memory, Language acquisition
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
SWORD Depositor:
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