Using Statistics to Learn Words and Grammatical Categories: How High Frequency Words Assist Language Acquisition

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

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding (ISBN)peer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
42 Downloads (Pure)


Recent studies suggest that high-frequency words may benefit speech segmentation (Bortfeld, Morgan, Golinkoff, & Rathbun, 2005) and grammatical categorisation (Monaghan, Christiansen, & Chater, 2007). To date, these tasks have been examined separately, but not together. We familiarised adults with continuous speech comprising repetitions of target words, and compared learning to a language in which targets appeared alongside high-frequency marker words. Marker words reliably preceded targets, and distinguished them into two otherwise unidentifiable categories. Participants completed a 2AFC segmentation test, and a similarity judgement categorisation test. We tested transfer to a word-picture mapping task, where words from each category were used either consistently or inconsistently to label actions/objects. Participants segmented the speech successfully, but only demonstrated effective categorisation when speech contained high-frequency marker words. The advantage of marker words extended to the early stages of the transfer task. Findings indicate the same high-frequency words may assist speech segmentation and grammatical categorisation.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 38th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society
EditorsA. Papafragou, D. Mirman, J. Trueswell
PublisherCognitive Science Society
ISBN (Electronic)9780991196739
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


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