Tuning in to non-adjacent dependencies: How experience with learnable patterns supports learning novel regularities

AbstractNon-adjacent dependencies are ubiquitous in language, but difficult to learn. Previous research has shown that the presence of high variability between dependent items facilitates learning. Yet what allows learning of non-adjacent dependencies even without high variability in intervening elements? One possibility is that learning non-adjacent dependencies highlights similar structures, allowing people to learn new non-adjacent dependencies that are otherwise difficult. In two studies, we show how being exposed to learnable non-adjacent dependencies can change learners' sensitivity to novel non-adjacent regularities that are more difficult to detect. These findings demonstrate a new way in which learning can build on and shape later learning about complex linguistic structure.


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