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01-01-2009 | Original Article | Uitgave 1/2009

Psychological Research 1/2009

Incidental learning of abstract rules for non-dominant word orders

Psychological Research > Uitgave 1/2009
Andrea P. Francis, Gwen L. Schmidt, Thomas H. Carr, Benjamin A. Clegg
Belangrijke opmerkingen
Gwen Schmidt is now with the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Pennsylvania. Tom Carr has returned to the Department of Psychology, Michigan State University. Ben Clegg’s contribution to this research was supported in part by Army Research Office Grant W9112NF-05-1-0153.


One way in which adult second language learners may acquire a word order that differs from their native language word order is through exposure-based incidental learning, but little is known about that process and what constrains it. The current studies examine whether a non-dominant word order can be learned incidentally, and if so, whether the rule can be generalized to new words not previously seen in the non-dominant order. Two studies examined the incidental learning of rules underlying the order of nouns and verbs in three-word strings. The self-timed reading speeds of native English speakers decreased as a result of practice with a non-dominant rule (words ordered either as “verb noun noun” or “noun noun verb”). The same pattern of results was also found for new words ordered according to the previously encountered rule, suggesting learning generalized beyond the specific instances encountered. A second experiment showed such rule learning could also occur when the nouns were replaced with pronounceable pseudowords. Learning was therefore possible in the absence of any pre-existing relationships between the items. Theoretical and educational implications are discussed.

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