The effect of verb surprisal on the acquisition of second language syntactic structures in adults: An artificial language learning study

Giulia Bovolenta*, Emma Marsden

*Corresponding author for this work

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Inverse probability adaptation effects (the finding that encountering a verb in an unexpected structure increases long-term priming for that structure) have been observed in both L1 and L2 speakers. However, participants in these studies all had established representations of the syntactic structures to be primed. It therefore remains an open question whether inverse probability adaptation effects could take place with newly encountered L2 structures. In a pre-registered experiment, we exposed participants (n = 84) to an artificial language with active and passive constructions. Training on Day 1 established expectations for specific co-occurrence patterns between verbs and structures. On Day 2, established patterns were violated for the surprisal group (n = 42), but not for the control group (n = 42). We observed no immediate priming effects from exposure to high-surprisal items. On Day 3, however, we observed an effect of input variation on comprehension of verb meaning in an auditory grammaticality judgment task. The surprisal group showed higher accuracy for passive structures in both tasks, suggesting that experiencing variation during learning had promoted the recognition of optionality in the target language.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages28
JournalApplied Psycholinguistics
Early online date21 Dec 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Dec 2023

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© The Author(s), 2023.

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