Mark My Words: High Frequency Marker Words Impact Early Stages of Language Learning

Rebecca L.A. Frost*, Padraic Monaghan, Morten H. Christiansen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)
33 Downloads (Pure)


High frequency words have been suggested to benefit both speech segmentation and grammatical categorization of the words around them. Despite utilizing similar information, these tasks are usually investigated separately in studies examining learning. We determined whether including high frequency words in continuous speech could support categorization when words are being segmented for the first time. We familiarized learners with continuous artificial speech comprising repetitions of target words, which were preceded by high-frequency marker words. Crucially, marker words distinguished targets into 2 distributionally defined categories. We measured learning with segmentation and categorization tests and compared performance against a control group that heard the artificial speech without these marker words (i.e., just the targets, with no cues for categorization). Participants segmented the target words from speech in both conditions, but critically when the marker words were present, they influenced acquisition of word-referent mappings in a subsequent transfer task, with participants demonstrating better early learning for mappings that were consistent (rather than inconsistent) with the distributional categories. We propose that high-frequency words may assist early grammatical categorization, while speech segmentation is still being learned.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1883-1898
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition
Issue number10
Early online date17 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Grammatical categorization
  • Language learning
  • Speech segmentation
  • Statistical learning


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