The Dynamics of Multiword Sequence Extraction


  • Pinto Arata Leonardo
  • Ordonez Magro Laura
  • Ramisch Carlos
  • Grainger Jonathan
  • Rey Arnaud


  • Language processing
  • Multiword chunking
  • Statistical learning

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Being able to process multiword sequences is central for both language comprehension and production. Numerous studies support this claim, but less is known about the way multiword sequences are acquired, and more specifically how associations between their constituents are established over time. Here we adapted Rey et al.’s (2020) Hebb naming task into a Hebb lexical decision task to study the dynamics of multiword sequence extraction. Participants had to read letter strings presented on a computer screen and were required to classify them as words or pseudowords. Unknown to the participants, a triplet of words or pseudowords systematically appeared in the same order and random words or pseudowords were inserted between two repetitions of the triplet. We found that RTs for the unpredictable first position in the triplet decreased over repetitions (i.e., indicating the presence of a repetition effect) but more slowly and with a different dynamic compared to items appearing at the predictable second and third positions in the repeated triplet (i.e., showing a slightly different predictability effect). Implicit and explicit learning also varied as a function of the nature of the triplet (i.e., unrelated words, pseudowords, semantically related words, or idioms). Overall, these results provide new empirical evidence about the dynamics of multiword sequence extraction, and more generally about the role of statistical learning in language acquisition.

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