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:
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).