Primed from the start: Syntactic priming during the first days of language learning

New linguistic information must be integrated into our existing language system. Using a novel experimental task that incorporates a syntactic priming paradigm into artificial language learning, we investigated how new grammatical regularities and words are learned. This innovation allowed us to control the language input the learner received, while the syntactic priming paradigm provided insight into the nature of the underlying syntactic processing machinery. The results of the present study pointed to facilitatory syntactic processing effects within the first days of learning: Syntactic and lexical priming effects revealed participants’ sensitivity to both novel words and word orders. This suggested that novel syntactic structures and their meaning (form–function mapping) can be acquired rapidly through incidental learning. More generally, our study indicated similar mechanisms for learning and processing in both artificial and natural languages, with implications for the relationship between first and second language learning.

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