Event Abstract

Mechanisms of syntactic learning in aphasia: evidence from lexically specific and independent structural priming

  • 1 Purdue University, United States
  • 2 Temple University, United States
  • 3 University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Syntactic priming – the tendency to repeat structures across otherwise unrelated sentences- accounts for life-long syntactic learning processes (Chang et al., 2006; 2012). A distinction is made between lexically-dependent (same verb between primes and targets) and lexically-independent (different verb between primes and targets) priming. It is posited that the former involves the activation of item-specific representations in explicit memory alongside abstract error-based implicit learning, while lexically-independent priming involves abstract implicit learning only. Priming is enhanced by verb repetition between primes and targets in both children and young adults, although the ‘lexical boost’ tends to dissipate over intervening fillers (Branigan & McLean, 2016; Pickering, McLean & Branigan, 2013; cf. Rowland et al., 2012; Peter et al., 2015). There is growing interest in utilizing structural priming to facilitate immediate as well as lasting syntactic learning in aphasia (Hartsuiker & Kolk, 1998; Saffran & Martin, 1997; Cho-Reyes, Mack, & Thompson, 2016; Lee & Man, 2017). However, little is known on whether and how the cognitive mechanisms supporting successful structural priming are different in individuals with aphasia (IWA) from unimpaired speakers. We examined the effects of verb overlap on structural priming in production and comprehension in IWA and healthy older adults (HOA). Specifically, we investigated whether both explicit memory-based lexical boost and implicit abstract priming are operative in IWA, or if one mechanism is more robust in IWA. Experiment 1 and 2 examined production priming at 0-lag and 2-lag (i.e., 0 vs. 2 intervening fillers), respectively. Participants played a collaborative game where they took turns describing pictures with an experimenter, who described their pictures using either a preferred (active, prepositional dative) or non-preferred (passive, double-object dative) prime. Experiments 3 and 4 examined comprehension of sentences with an ambiguous prepositional phrase (e.g., the doctor is poking the chef with an umbrella) at 0-lag and 2-lag. In a written sentence-picture matching task, participants were “primed” with either a verb-modifier (preferred) or object noun-modifier (non-preferred) disambiguation in a prime trial where only one of the two pictures was the correct choice. Then, the target sentence was presented with two pictures that matched both alternative interpretations of the sentence. Eleven IWA and 14 IWA were tested so far for production and comprehension experiments. Twenty HOA were tested in all experiments. Logit mixed-effects models (Bates, Maechler, Bolker, & Walker, 2014) revealed that, in sentence production, HOA showed significant abstract priming as well as lexical boost at 0-lag (p’s < .01), and only abstract priming at lag 2 (p < .01; see Table 1). However, IWA showed only abstract priming at both lags (p’s < .01). In sentence comprehension, both HOA and IWA showed only abstract priming, but no lexical boost in both experiments (HOA: p’s < .05; IWA: p’s <.01). These findings suggest that implicit error-based abstract structural priming and some explicit memory-based lexically specific priming continue to operate in the aging system, similar to what has been shown in young adults and children. However, only lexically independent structural priming is effective and persists in aphasic production and comprehension systems.

Figure 1


Bates, D., Maechler, M., Bolker, B., Walker, S., Christensen, R. H. B., Singmann, H., & Dai, B.
(2014). lme4: Linear mixed-effects models using Eigen and S4 (Version 1.1-7). Retrievable from:https://cran. r-project. org/web/packages/lme4/index. Html.
Branigan, H. P., & McLean, J. F. (2016). What children learn from adults’ utterances: An
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Chang, F., Dell, G. S., & Bock, K. (2006). Becoming syntactic. Psychological review, 113(2),
Chang, F., Janciauskas, M., & Fitz, H. (2012). Language adaptation and learning: Getting
explicit about implicit learning. Language and Linguistics Compass, 6(5), 259-278.
Hartsuiker, R. J., & Kolk, H. H. (1998). Syntactic facilitation in agrammatic sentence production.
Brain and Language, 62(2), 221-254.
Lee, J., & Man, G. (2017). Language recovery in aphasia following implicit structural priming
training: a case study. Aphasiology, 31(12), 1441-1458.
Peter, M., Chang, F., Pine, J. M., Blything, R., & Rowland, C. F. (2015). When and how do
children develop knowledge of verb argument structure? Evidence from verb bias effects in a structural priming task. Journal of Memory and Language, 81, 1-15.
Pickering, M. J., McLean, J. F., & Branigan, H. P. (2013). Persistent structural priming and
frequency effects during comprehension. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 39(3), 890.
Rowland, C. F., Chang, F., Ambridge, B., Pine, J. M., & Lieven, E. V. (2012). The development
of abstract syntax: Evidence from structural priming and the lexical boost. Cognition, 125(1), 49-63.
Saffran, E. M., & Martin, N. (1997). Effects of structural priming on sentence production in
aphasics. Language and Cognitive Processes, 12(5-6), 877-882.

Keywords: structural priming, Aphasia, sentence production, sentence comprehension, syntactic learning, Lexical boost, implicit learning, Implicit Memory

Conference: Academy of Aphasia 56th Annual Meeting, Montreal, Canada, 21 Oct - 23 Oct, 2018.

Presentation Type: oral presentation

Topic: not eligible for a student prize

Citation: Lee J, Man G, Hosokawa E, Meehan S, Martin N and Branigan H (2019). Mechanisms of syntactic learning in aphasia: evidence from lexically specific and independent structural priming. Conference Abstract: Academy of Aphasia 56th Annual Meeting. doi: 10.3389/conf.fnhum.2018.228.00103

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Received: 30 Apr 2018; Published Online: 22 Jan 2019.

* Correspondence: PhD. Jiyeon Lee, Purdue University, West Lafayette, United States, lee1704@purdue.edu