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The Role of Working Memory for Syntactic Formulation in Language Production


Four picture-description experiments investigated if syntactic formulation in language production can proceed with only minimal working memory involvement. Experiments 1-3 compared the initiation latencies, utterance durations, and errors for syntactically simpler picture descriptions (adjective-noun phrases, e.g., the red book) to those of more complex descriptions (relative clauses, e.g., the book that is red). In Experiment 4, the syntactically more complex descriptions were also lexically more complex (e.g., the book and the car vs. the book). Simpler and more complex descriptions were produced under verbal memory load consisting of 2 or 4 unrelated nouns, or under no load. Across experiments, load actually made production more efficient (as manifested in shorter latencies, shorter durations or both), and sped up the durations of relative clauses more than those of adjective-noun phrases. The only evidence for disproportional disruption of more complex descriptions by load was a greater increase of production errors for these descriptions than for simpler descriptions under load in Experiments 2 and 4. We thus conclude that syntactic formulation in production (for certain constructions or in certain situations) can proceed with minimal working memory involvement. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).

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