Event Abstract

Aligning sentence structures in a language game: evidence from healthy aging and aphasia

  • 1 Purdue University, Speech Language and Hearing Sciences, United States
  • 2 University of California San Diego, United States

Speakers align syntactic structures with their conversational partners. Gruberg et al. (in prep-a) discovered that this syntactic alignment occurs for associations between event content and sentence structures, also known as syntactic entrainment, beyond the level of sentence constituent orders. These effects are shown in both young adults and children, and are viewed as reflecting ongoing prediction error-based ‘tuning’ or language learning throughout the lifespan. Crucially, the prediction errors that cause syntactic alignment are experienced during comprehension, rather than production of sentences (Chang, Dell, & Bock, 2006; Jaeger & Snider, 2013), predicting that listening to their interlocutor’s utterances would suffice for speakers to adapt their production preferences. We test this hypothesis in older and aphasic speakers to better understand the mechanisms of syntactic learning. Experiment 1 examined syntactic entrainment in a comprehension-based picture matching game. In Experiment 2, the game was modified so that the participant repeats their partner’s utterances during card matching, obligating prior production of the target structures. For Experiment 1, 20 young, 20 older adults, and 13 adults with aphasia participated in a collaborative language (picture-matching) game. Participants played the ‘matcher’ and subsequently ‘director’ roles with the experimenter, who described pictures using either preferred (active, prepositional dative, and on-variant locatives) or non-preferred structures (passive, double-objective dative, and with-variant locative). When playing the matcher role, the participant placed their cards in the correct order after listening to the experimenter’s sentences. Then the participant, playing the director role, described pictures for the experimenter to match. We measured whether the participant produced the same structures to refer to specific events in the pictures as the experimenter. Results revealed that young adults were more likely to produce preferred structures upon hearing experimenter’s use of preferred vs. non-preferred structures (p < .001) – that is, syntactic entrainment. However, no syntactic entrainment effects were shown in older and aphasic participants (Figure 1a). For Experiment 2, data from 12 older adults and 6 adults with stroke-induced aphasia have been collected so far. Participants were instructed to verbally repeat the experimenter’s sentences before they select the matching picture card, thus obligating prior production of target sentences. Remaining procedures were the same as Experiment 1. In contrast to the results of Experiment 1, both older (p < .001) and aphasic speakers (p < .05) used preferred structures more frequently following experimenter’s use of preferred vs. non-preferred structures (Figure 1b). Together, our findings show that comprehension-induced prediction error is not sufficient for successful syntactic entrainment effects in older and aphasic speakers, different from what has been shown in young adults and children (Gruberg et al., in prep a, b). This further suggests that as an effect of aging and aphasia, content-structure mapping becomes stabilized so that active production of target content-structure associations has most predictive effects in syntactic learning. In sum, the current study illustrates that the mechanisms of syntactic learning change as a function of age and modality, which may need to be considered in the existing models of error-based language learning (Change et al., 2006; Jaeger & Snider, 2013).

Figure 1


Chang, F., Dell, G. S., & Bock, K. (2006). Becoming syntactic. Psychological review, 113(2), 234.
Gruberg, N. Ostrand, R. O., & Ferreira, V. S. (in prep-a). Syntactic entrainment: Repetition of syntactic structure in event descriptions.
Gruberg, N., Wardlow, L., & Ferreira, V. S. (in prep-b). Learning syntactic restrictions in childhood and adulthood.
Jaeger, T. F., & Snider, N. E. (2013). Alignment as a consequence of expectation adaptation: Syntactic priming is affected by the prime’s prediction error given both prior and recent experience. Cognition, 127(1), 57-83.

Keywords: Aging, Aphasia, syntactic entrainment, language learning, Language production

Conference: Academy of Aphasia 55th Annual Meeting , Baltimore, United States, 5 Nov - 7 Nov, 2017.

Presentation Type: oral presentation

Topic: Aphasia

Citation: Man G, Lee J, Ferreira V and Gruberg N (2019). Aligning sentence structures in a language game: evidence from healthy aging and aphasia. Conference Abstract: Academy of Aphasia 55th Annual Meeting . doi: 10.3389/conf.fnhum.2017.223.00081

Copyright: The abstracts in this collection have not been subject to any Frontiers peer review or checks, and are not endorsed by Frontiers. They are made available through the Frontiers publishing platform as a service to conference organizers and presenters.

The copyright in the individual abstracts is owned by the author of each abstract or his/her employer unless otherwise stated.

Each abstract, as well as the collection of abstracts, are published under a Creative Commons CC-BY 4.0 (attribution) licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) and may thus be reproduced, translated, adapted and be the subject of derivative works provided the authors and Frontiers are attributed.

For Frontiers’ terms and conditions please see https://www.frontiersin.org/legal/terms-and-conditions.

Received: 19 Apr 2017; Published Online: 25 Jan 2019.

* Correspondence: Ms. Grace Man, Purdue University, Speech Language and Hearing Sciences, West Lafayette, Indiana, 47907, United States, gman@purdue.edu