Semantic and Syntactic Predictions in Reading Aloud: Are Good Predictors Good Statistical Learners?


  • Gavard Elisa
  • Ziegler Johannes C


  • Context effect
  • Reading aloud
  • Semantic prediction
  • Syntactic prediction
  • Statistical learning

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Recent research suggests that becoming a fluent reader may partially rely on a domain-general statistical learning (SL) mechanism that allows a person to automatically extract predictable patterns from the sensory input. The goal of the present study was to investigate a potential link between SL and the ability to make linguistic predictions. All previous studies investigated quite general levels of reading ability rather than the dynamic process of making linguistic predictions. We thus used a recently developed predictive reading task, which consisted of having participants read aloud words that were preceded by either semantically or syntactically predictive contexts. To measure the componential nature of SL, we used a visual and an auditory SL task (VSL, ASL) and the classic serial reaction time task (SRT). General reading ability was assessed with a reading speed/comprehension test. The study was conducted online on a sample of 120 participants to make it possible to explore interindividual differences. The results showed only weak and sometimes even negative correlations between the various SL measures. ASL correlated positively and predicted general reading ability but neither semantic nor syntactic prediction effects. Similarly, one of the SRT measures was significantly associated with reading level and reading speed but not with linguistic prediction effects. In sum, there is little evidence that domain-general SL is a good predictor of people’s ability to make domain-specific linguistic predictions. In contrast, SL shows a weak but significant association with general reading ability.

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