Word order predicts a native speakers' working memory

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Word order predicts a native speakers' working memory

Postby zenmonkey » Tue Feb 05, 2019 10:48 am

"Word order predicts a native speakers' working memory: The language we speak affects the way we process, store and retrieve information."

Memory plays a crucial role in our lives, and several studies have already investigated how we store and retrieve information under different conditions. Typically, stimuli presented at the beginning and at the end of a list are recalled better than stimuli from the middle. But are these findings universal and generalizable across languages and cultures?


The main novelty of this study is that the link between language and thought might not be just confined to conceptual representations and semantic biases, but rather extend to syntax and its role in our way of processing sequential information. The language we speak affects the way we process, store and retrieve information.


In typical right-branching (RB) languages, like Italian, the head of the sentence usually comes first, followed by a sequence of modifiers that provide additional information about the head (e.g. "the man who was sitting at the bus stop"). In contrast, in left-branching (LB) languages, like Japanese, modifiers generally precede heads (e.g. "who was sitting at the bus stop, the man"). In RB languages, speakers could process information incrementally, given that heads are presented first and modifiers rarely affect previous parsing decisions. In contrast, LB structures can be highly ambiguous until the end, because initial modifiers often acquire a clear meaning only after the head has been parsed. Therefore, LB speakers may need to retain initial modifiers in working memory until the head is encountered to comprehend the sentence.

By providing participants with a series of classic memory tasks, the research team could compare their performance when recalling words, numbers and spatial stimuli. "The main finding of the study is that left-branching speakers were better at remembering initial stimuli across verbal and non-verbal working memory tasks, probably because real-time sentence comprehension heavily relies on retaining initial information in LB languages, but not in RB languages," says Alejandro Sanchéz Amaro, currently in the Department of Cognitive Science at the University of California, San Diego.


https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2 ... 114641.htm

If true, this suggests that L1 affects L2 acquisition in terms of memory and processing. So are Japanese L1 speakers generally better at Anki like-recall tasks than Italian L1 speakers?

Or did they group these people into two subcategories and something entirely different is going on? (Rather than branching, could be average sentence length, verbal positioning, morphological complexity...) What is their resulting null hypothesis and howler they testing it?

The original paper can be found here:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-37654-9

Method:
In order to test this hypothesis, we selected four RB languages (Ndonga, Khmer, Thai, Italian) and four LB languages (Sidaama, Khoekhoe, Korean, Japanese), using the World Atlas of Language Structures (WALS79). To determine the degree of branching in each language, we used the following word order criteria: order of object-verb, genitive-noun, relative clause-noun, and clause-subordinate. All languages were consistently RB or LB according to all these criteria (except for Sidaama, for which the clause-subordinate order is not classified as either consistently RB or LB by the WALS). In comparison, English is consistently RB for three out of four of these criteria. For each language, we tested 24–30 adult native speakers of both sexes, in three widely used working memory (WM) and three widely used short-term memory (STM) tasks, containing sets of 2–9 numerical, spatial or word stimuli (see Methods).


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Re: Word order predicts a native speakers' working memory

Postby Cainntear » Wed Feb 06, 2019 7:27 pm

zenmonkey wrote:"Word order predicts a native speakers' working memory: The language we speak affects the way we process, store and retrieve information."
...
So are Japanese L1 speakers generally better at Anki like-recall tasks than Italian L1 speakers?

That doesn't seem to be a question that the study addresses. Anki works on long-term recall and doesn't place any significant load on working memory.

Edit: oops... was reading too quickly. Working and short term memory.
Last edited by Cainntear on Thu Feb 07, 2019 8:25 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Word order predicts a native speakers' working memory

Postby Cainntear » Sun Feb 10, 2019 12:07 pm

The paper was sitting open in a background tab and I just saw some of the boxplots. I can't believe they attempted to ascribe the differences to left vs right branching when two of their left branching languages did just as poorly as the worst two of the right branching languages.

Surely the point of studying across languages is to look for a repeated pattern?
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Re: Word order predicts a native speakers' working memory

Postby Kraut » Sun Feb 10, 2019 2:05 pm

Creo que en todo esto nada tiene que ver la memoria funcional.
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Re: Word order predicts a native speakers' working memory

Postby rdearman » Sun Feb 10, 2019 4:38 pm

Kraut wrote:Creo que en todo esto nada tiene que ver la memoria funcional.

English translation pleaae.
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Re: Word order predicts a native speakers' working memory

Postby Kraut » Sun Feb 10, 2019 5:18 pm

rdearman wrote:
Kraut wrote:Creo que en todo esto nada tiene que ver la memoria funcional.

English translation pleaae.


The sentence would lose all its charm. It is meant to show that in reversed order it is still a correct and understandable sentence.

Creo que en todo esto nada tiene que ver la memoria funcional.
vs
Creo que la memoria funcional tiene nada que ver en todo esto.
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Re: Word order predicts a native speakers' working memory

Postby zenmonkey » Mon Feb 11, 2019 6:51 am

Kraut wrote:
rdearman wrote:
Kraut wrote:Creo que en todo esto nada tiene que ver la memoria funcional.

English translation pleaae.


The sentence would lose all its charm. It is meant to show that in reversed order it is still a correct and understandable sentence.

Creo que en todo esto nada tiene que ver la memoria funcional.
vs
Creo que la memoria funcional tiene nada que ver en todo esto.


I believe that in all of this, none of it has to do with functional memory.

Well. I'm going to disagree with Caintear's statement that Anki only works on LTM and not on working memory a lot of the initial exposure to items in cards is, unfortunately, all about short term loss.
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Re: Word order predicts a native speakers' working memory

Postby Kraut » Mon Feb 11, 2019 11:20 am

There is one feature in German word order that is the horror for all simultaneous interpreters, the fact that auxiliaries and participles of verbs are separated and inbetween can go a number of other sentence parts.

"Warum hast Du mir, als du mit Deiner Familie im Sommer in den USA warst, keine Ansichtskarten von deiner Reise geschickt?

German speakers ought to have an advantage through this in maintaining the contents of a message better than speakers of other languages.
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Re: Word order predicts a native speakers' working memory

Postby reineke » Mon Feb 11, 2019 3:51 pm

Germans always find some strategic advantage. New Word Order!
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Re: Word order predicts a native speakers' working memory

Postby Cainntear » Mon Feb 11, 2019 11:08 pm

zenmonkey wrote:Well. I'm going to disagree with Caintear's statement that Anki only works on LTM and not on working memory a lot of the initial exposure to items in cards is, unfortunately, all about short term loss.

There's a huge difference between short term memory and working memory, though, and there's now a school of thought that says there's no such thing as short-term memory -- what we used to call STM is said by some to just be weak traces in LTM.

Holding multiple cards in working memory is difficult, especially if they aren't just single-word cards, and it relies on them having a very short revision cycle.
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