Prior Knowledge's Role in Consolidating Phonotactic Generalizations for Speech Production

How helpful is prior knowledge for sleep-based consolidation of second-order phonotactic patterns in speech production?



Learning a new language opens up a myriad of opportunities for cross-cultural communication, which is critical to remaining competitive in today’s globally networked information economy. But language learning is difficult, especially for adults, who must integrate new language experience with the language knowledge they already have. Previous research has found that sleep-based consolidation—an improvement in what you can recall as a result of sleep—is critical to this integration. In fact, we must sleep before novel phonotactics—language-specific generalizations about how sounds can be ordered within syllables and words—become ingrained in speech processing (specifically, unconsciously shaping the errors we make while speaking). This project asks what role prior knowledge plays in this process: can knowing similar phonotactics boost the effectiveness of sleep-based consolidation for learning novel phonotactics? The findings of this research can inform the design of curricula and interventions to make language learning more effective, and can also shed light on how our brain changes as we learn.

This project aims to clarify the role of prior knowledge in consolidating second-order phonotactic generalizations for speech production, by analyzing errors made in multi-day tongue-twister experiments that manipulate the structural similarity of novel second-order phonotactic generalizations with respect to previously-learned phonotactic generalizations. Structural similarity is operationalized in terms of syllabic positions involved in each generalizations (onset-vowel, vowel-coda). Two sources of prior knowledge will be considered: participants’ native language (English) and pre-training using the experimental tongue-twister task. Activity monitors estimating time spent in slow-wave sleep will link consolidation effects observed in this study to those observed in studies in other cognitive and linguistic domains. To control for temporal-order differences between onset-vowel vs. vowel-coda generalizations, a non-linguistic button-pressing task will test for the absence of differences in learning start-middle vs. middle-end patterns.

Project Status

  • speech (tongue-twister) experiments: all data has been collected; data analysis is underway
  • button-pressing experiment: data collection is underway




Presented at

  1. LabPhon 18 (Annual Meeting of the Association for Laboratory Phonology), June 2022: Prior Knowledge’s Role in Consolidating Novel Phonotactics for Speech Production (poster presentation)