[PS-1.78] The acquisition of verb-argument and verb-noun category biases in a novel word learning task

Weber, K. 1 , Meyer, A. 1 & Hagoort, P. 1, 2

1 Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
2 Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour

We show that language users readily learn the probabilities of novel lexical cues to syntactic information (verbs biasing towards a prepositional object dative vs. double-object dative and words biasing towards a verb vs. noun reading) and use these biases in a subsequent production task. In a one-hour exposure phase participants read 12 novel lexical items, embedded in 30 sentence contexts each, in their native language. The items were either strongly (100%) biased towards one grammatical frame or syntactic category assignment or unbiased (50%). The next day participants produced sentences with the newly learned lexical items. They were given the sentence beginning up to the novel lexical item. Their output showed that they were highly sensitive to the biases introduced in the exposure phase.
Given this rapid learning and use of novel lexical cues, this paradigm opens up new avenues to test sentence processing theories. Thus, with close control on the biases participants are acquiring, competition between different frames or category assignments can be investigated using reaction times or neuroimaging methods.
Generally, these results show that language users adapt to the statistics of the linguistic input, even to subtle lexically-driven cues to syntactic information.