A decade of research suggests that infants readily detect patterns in their environment, but it is unclear how such learning changes with experience. We tested how prior experience influences sensitivity to statistical regularities in an artificial language. Although 12-month-old infants learn adjacent relationships between word categories, they do not track nonadjacent relationships until 15 months. We asked whether 12-month-old infants could generalize experience with adjacent dependencies to nonadjacent ones. Infants were familiarized to an artificial language either containing or lacking adjacent dependencies between word categories and were subsequently habituated to novel nonadjacent dependencies. Prior experience with adjacent dependencies resulted in enhanced learning of the nonadjacent dependencies. Female infants showed better discrimination than males did, which is consistent with earlier reported sex differences in verbal memory capacity. The findings suggest that prior experience can bootstrap infants' learning of difficult language structure and that learning mechanisms are powerfully affected by experience.
ASJC Scopus subject areas