Natural languages contain many layers of sequential structure, from the distribution of phonemes within words to the distribution of phrases within utterances. However, most research modeling language acquisition using artificial languages has focused on only one type of distributional structure at a time. In two experiments, we investigated adult learning of an artificial language that contains dependencies between both adjacent and non-adjacent words. We found that learners rapidly acquired both types of regularities and that the strength of the adjacent statistics (...) influenced learning of both adjacent and non-adjacent dependencies. Additionally, though accuracy was similar for both types of structure, participants’ knowledge of the deterministic non-adjacent dependencies was more explicit than their knowledge of the probabilistic adjacent dependencies. The results are discussed in the context of current theories of statistical learning and language acquisition. (shrink)
Infants have been described as 'statistical learners' capable of extracting structure (such as words) from patterned input (such as language). Here, we investigated whether prior knowledge influences how infants track transitional probabilities in word segmentation tasks. Are infants biased by prior experience when engaging in sequential statistical learning? In a laboratory simulation of learning across time, we exposed 9- and 10-month-old infants to a list of either disyllabic or trisyllabic nonsense words, followed by a pause-free speech stream composed of a (...) different set of disyllabic or trisyllabic nonsense words. Listening times revealed successful segmentation of words from fluent speech only when words were uniformly disyllabic or trisyllabic throughout both phases of the experiment. Hearing trisyllabic words during the pre-exposure phase derailed infants' abilities to segment speech into disyllabic words, and vice versa. We conclude that prior knowledge about word length equips infants with perceptual expectations that facilitate efficient processing of subsequent language input. (shrink)
Recent research has begun to explore individual differences in statistical learning, and how those differences may be related to other cognitive abilities, particularly their effects on language learning. In this research, we explored a different type of relationship between language learning and statistical learning: the possibility that learning a new language may also influence statistical learning by changing the regularities to which learners are sensitive. We tested two groups of participants, Mandarin Learners and Naïve Controls, at two time points, 6 (...) months apart. At each time point, participants performed two different statistical learning tasks: an artificial tonal language statistical learning task and a visual statistical learning task. Only the Mandarin-learning group showed significant improvement on the linguistic task, whereas both groups improved equally on the visual task. These results support the view that there are multiple influences on statistical learning. Domain-relevant experiences may affect the regularities that learners can discover when presented with novel stimuli. (shrink)
In this article, we consider infants’ acquisition of foundational aspects of language and emotion through the lens of statistical learning. By taking a comparative developmental approach, we highlight ways in which the learning problems presented by input from these two rich communicative domains are both similar and different. Our goal is to encourage other scholars to consider multiple domains of human experience when developing theories in developmental cognitive science.