Effects of statistical learning on the acquisition of grammatical categories through Qur’anic memorization: A natural experiment
2016, Cognition, Pg. 79–84, Volume 148,
Empirical evidence for statistical learning comes from artificial language tasks, but it is unclear how these effects scale up outside of the lab. The current study turns to a real-world test case of statistical learning where native English speakers encounter the syntactic regularities of Arabic through memorization of the Qur’an. This unique input provides extended exposure to the complexity of a natural language, with minimal semantic cues. Memorizers were asked to distinguish unfamiliar nouns and verbs based on their co-occurrence with familiar pronouns in an Arabic language sample. Their performance was compared to that of classroom learners who had explicit knowledge of pronoun meanings and grammatical functions. Grammatical judgments were more accurate in memorizers compared to non-memorizers. No effects of classroom experience were found. These results demonstrate that real-world exposure to the statistical properties of a natural language facilitates the acquisition of grammatical categories.