Behavioral Signatures of Memory Resources for Language: Looking beyond the Lexicon/Grammar Divide

Dagmar Divjak, Petar Milin, Srdan Medimorec, Maciej Borowski

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Although there is a broad consensus that both the procedural and declarative memory systems play a crucial role in language learning, use, and knowledge, the mapping between linguistic types and memory structures remains underspecified: by default, a dual-route mapping of language systems to memory systems is assumed, with declarative memory handling idiosyncratic lexical knowledge and procedural memory handling rule-governed knowledge of grammar. We experimentally contrast the processing of morphology (case and aspect), syntax (subordination), and lexical semantics (collocations) in a healthy L1 population of Polish, a language rich in form distinctions. We study the processing of these four types under two conditions: a single task condition in which the grammaticality of stimuli was judged and a concurrent task condition in which grammaticality judgments were combined with a digit span task. Dividing attention impedes access to declarative memory while leaving procedural memory unaffected and hence constitutes a test that dissociates which types of linguistic information each long-term memory construct subserves. Our findings confirm the existence of a distinction between lexicon and grammar as a generative, dual-route model would predict, but the distinction is graded, as usage-based models assume: the hypothesized grammar–lexicon opposition appears as a continuum on which grammatical phenomena can be placed as being more or less “ruly” or “idiosyncratic.” However, usage-based models, too, need adjusting as not all types of linguistic knowledge are proceduralized to the same extent. This move away from a simple dichotomy fundamentally changes how we think about memory for language, and hence how we design and interpret behavioral and neuroimaging studies that probe into the nature of language cognition.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13206
Number of pages36
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 10 Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by The Leverhulme Trust RL-2016-001 to Dagmar Divjak, which funded all authors. We thank Agata Kochańska for hosting us at the Institute of English Studies, University of Warsaw, Poland and Marta Gasiorowska for her help creating the stimuli and collecting the data.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. Cognitive Science published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Cognitive Science Society (CSS).


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