The role of Gestalt principles in the acquisition of non-adjacent dependencies in linguistic and non-linguistic sequences


Recent evidence from artificial language learning (ALL) experiments suggests that the underlying statistical structure of the input may serve as a cue in language learning and that a similar mechanism is involved in sequential learning of non-linguistic stimuli (e.g. Christiansen, Conway & Onnis, 2007). Other experimental work suggests that Gestalt principle of similarity plays a role in the acquisition of non-adjacent dependencies (e.g. Newport & Aslin, 2004). We present experimental evidence which is inconsistent with the strongest interpretation of these previous experimental results. Adult participants in our ALL experiment learnt non-adjacent dependencies without the assistance of Gestalt principles whereas participants in equivalent non-linguistic conditions did not. This suggests, at a minimum, that any domain-general learning capacity employed in language acquisition must be provided with domain-specific expectations about the relevant units of analysis. Keywords: artificial grammar learning, non-adjacent dependencies, Gestalt principle of similarity

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