Context-dependent memory effects on syntax

Abstract

Recently, researchers in usage-based linguistics have argued that language should be thought of as a domain-general processing faculty operating on rich memory representations of particular experiences with language. If true, this would imply that context-dependent memory effects ought to be detectable across the language-nonlanguage boundary. Specifically, it would imply that that by manipulating nonlinguistic environmental context, it should be possible to influence people's linguistic production. This study reports three experiments testing whether environmental background color, music, or sound can influence participants' choice of active or passive voice in a picture-description task. Results suggest that the effect, if present, is not as clear-cut as has been argued by some language theorists, but there are promising signs that language production may indeed be susceptible to associative influence from the nonlinguistic environment.


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