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The effect of statistical learning and general cognitive skills on language processing: a structural equation modeling study



Statistical learning is assumed to be a central skill in language acquisition, and individual differences in statistical learning are expected to contribute to individual variation in language ability. In the present study, we aimed to explore more specific relationships between statistical learning abilities and linguistic skills relying on a diverse set of language tasks (vocabulary size, predictive processing of sentences, processing of grammatical or semantic violations and complex sentence structures). We also wanted to control for the contribution of processing speed, short term memory and cognitive control which might mediate between linguistic ability and statistical learning and explain some amount of shared variation between statistical learning and language tasks. To address these questions, we used structural equation modeling on data from a large pool of Hungarian speakers (300 participants). Our results suggest that the contribution of statistical learning abilities to linguistic skills is not systematic, and most of the observed associations are mediated by general cognitive abilities. These suggest that the role of statistical learning may be most prominent at earlier stages of language acquisition. They also draw attention to the importance of methodological aspects in the assessment of cognitive abilities behind language: the psychometric properties of tasks, the inclusion of control tasks and the age of participants.

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