Long-term memory predictors of adult language learning at the interface between syntactic form and meaning

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Recent neurocognitive models of second language learning have posited specific roles for declarative and procedural memory in the processing of novel linguistic stimuli. Pursuing this line of investigation, the present exploratory study examined the role of declarative and procedural memory abilities in the early stages of adult comprehension of sentences in a miniature language with natural language characteristics (BrocantoJ). Thirty-six native Italian young adults were aurally exposed to BrocantoJ in the context of a computer game over three sessions on consecutive days. Following vocabulary training and passive exposure, participants were asked to perform game moves described by aural sentences in the language. Game trials differed with respect to the information the visual context offered. In part of the trials processing of relationships between grammatical properties of the language (word order and morphological case marking) and noun semantics (thematic role) was necessary in order reach an accurate outcome, whereas in others nongrammatical contextual cues were sufficient. Declarative and procedural learning abilities were respectively indexed by visual and verbal declarative memory measures and by a measure of visual implicit sequence learning. Overall, the results indicated a substantial role of declarative learning ability in the early stages of sentence comprehension, thus confirming theoretical predictions and the findings of previous similar studies in miniature artificial language paradigms. However, for trials that specifically probed the learning of relationships between morphosyntax and semantics, a positive interaction between declarative and procedural learning ability also emerged, indicating the cooperative engagement of both types of learning abilities in the processing of relationships between ruled-based grammar and interpretation in the early stages of exposure to a new language in adults.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0275061
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 03.10.2022

Bibliographical note

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© 2022 Diana Pili-Moss. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.