Syntax Acquisition in Healthy Adults and Post-Stroke Individuals: The Intriguing Role of Grammatical Preference, Statistical Learning, and Education

Simon Kirsch, Carolin Elser, Elena Barbieri, Dorothee Kümmerer, Cornelius Weiller, Mariacristina Musso*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Previous work has provided contrasting evidence on syntax acquisition. Syntax-internal factors, i.e., instinctive knowledge of the universals of grammar (UG) for finite-state grammar (FSG) and phrase-structure grammar (PSG) but also syntax-external factors such as language competence, working memory (WM) and demographic factors may affect syntax acquisition. This study employed an artificial grammar paradigm to identify which factors predicted syntax acquisition. Thirty-seven healthy individuals and forty-nine left-hemispheric stroke patients (fourteen with aphasia) read syllable sequences adhering to or violating FSG and PSG. They performed preference classifications followed by grammatical classifications (after training). Results showed the best classification accuracy for sequences adhering to UG, with performance predicted by syntactic competence and spatial WM. Classification of ungrammatical sequences improved after training and was predicted by verbal WM. Although accuracy on FSG was better than on PSG, generalization was fully possible only for PSG. Education was the best predictor of syntax acquisition, while aphasia and lesion volume were not predictors. This study shows a clear preference for UG, which is influenced by spatial and linguistic knowledge, but not by the presence of aphasia. Verbal WM supported the identification of rule violations. Moreover, the acquisition of FSG and PSG was related to partially different mechanisms, but both depended on education.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number616
JournalBrain Sciences
Volume12
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2022

Keywords

  • aphasia
  • education
  • syntactic predictors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience

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