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Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Psychol., 02 October 2013 | http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00689

Word frequency cues word order in adults: cross-linguistic evidence

  • 1Laboratoire Psychologie de la Perception, Université Paris Descartes, Sorbonne Paris Cité, Paris, France
  • 2Laboratoire Psychologie de la Perception, CNRS, Paris, France
  • 3Department of Technology, Center for Brain and Cognition, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain
  • 4Lingusitics and Basque Studies, Psycholingusitics Laboratory, University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain
  • 5Laboratory for Language Development, RIKEN Brain Science Institute, Wako-shi, Japan
  • 6Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA
  • 7Language, Cognition and Development Lab, Cognitive Neuroscience Sector, SISSA - International School for Advanced Studies, Trieste, Italy

One universal feature of human languages is the division between grammatical functors and content words. From a learnability point of view, functors might provide entry points or anchors into the syntactic structure of utterances due to their high frequency. Despite its potentially universal scope, this hypothesis has not yet been tested on typologically different languages and on populations of different ages. Here we report a corpus study and an artificial grammar learning experiment testing the anchoring hypothesis in Basque, Japanese, French, and Italian adults. We show that adults are sensitive to the distribution of functors in their native language and use them when learning new linguistic material. However, compared to infants' performance on a similar task, adults exhibit a slightly different behavior, matching the frequency distributions of their native language more closely than infants do. This finding bears on the issue of the continuity of language learning mechanisms.

Keywords: language acquisition, speech perception, morphosyntax, cross-linguistic analysis, word frequency, corpus analysis, anchoring hypothesis

Citation: Gervain J, Sebastian-Galles N, Diaz B, Laka I, Mazuka R, Yamane N, Nespor M and Mehler J (2013) Word frequency cues word order in adults: cross-linguistic evidence. Front. Psychol. 4:689. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00689

Received: 13 May 2013; Paper pending published: 27 July 2013;
Accepted: 11 September 2013; Published online: 02 October 2013.

Edited by:

Guillaume Thierry, Bangor University, UK

Reviewed by:

Mariano Sigman, The Rockefeller University, New York
Debbie L. Mills, Bangor University, UK

Copyright © 2013 Gervain, Sebastian-Galles, Diaz, Laka, Mazuka, Yamane, Nespor and Mehler. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Judit Gervain, Laboratoire Psychologie de la Perception, CNRS-Université Paris Descartes, 45 rue des Saints-Pères, 75006 Paris, France e-mail: judit.gervain@parisdescartes.fr