Not all procedural learning tasks are difficult for adults with developmental language disorder

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Abstract

Purpose: The experiment reported here compared two hypotheses for the poor statistical and artificial grammar learning often seen in children and adults with developmental language disorder (DLD; also known as specific language impairment). The procedural learning deficit hypothesis states that implicit learning of rule-based input is impaired, whereas the sequential pattern learning deficit hypothesis states that poor performance is only seen when learners must implicitly compute sequential dependencies. The current experiment tested learning of an artificial grammar that could be learned via feature activation, as observed in an associatively organized lexicon, without computing sequential dependencies and should therefore be learnable on the sequential pattern learning deficit hypothesis, but not on the procedural learning deficit hypothesis. Method: Adults with DLD and adults with typical language development (TD) listened to consonant–vowel–consonant– vowel familiarization words from one of two artificial phonological grammars: Family Resemblance (two out of three features) and a control (exclusive OR, in which both consonants are voiced OR both consonants are voiceless) grammar in which no learning was predicted for either group. At test, all participants rated 32 test words as to whether or not they conformed to the pattern in the familiarization words. Results: Adults with DLD and adults with TD showed equal and robust learning of the Family Resemblance grammar, accepting significantly more conforming than nonconforming test items. Both groups who were familiarized with the Family Resemblance grammar also outperformed those who were familiarized with the OR grammar, which, as predicted, was learned by neither group. Conclusion: Although adults and children with DLD often underperform, compared to their peers with TD, on statistical and artificial grammar learning tasks, poor performance appears to be tied to the implicit computation of sequential dependencies, as predicted by the sequential pattern learning deficit hypothesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)922-934
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Volume64
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing

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