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Poster E30, Saturday, August 18, 3:00 – 4:45 pm, Room 2000AB

Learning Novel Words with Meanings: The Role of Consolidation in Word Learning and Memory Retention

Yushuang Liu1, Janet G. van Hell1;1The Pennsylvania State University

The Complementary Learning Systems Theory (CLS; Davis & Gaskell, 2009) proposes that word learning entails two memory networks. Novel words are initially encoded as episodic memory traces by the hippocampal learning system. After a subsequent period of consolidation, a shift towards more systematic, lexicalized coding of the memory representation in a distributed neocortical network occurs. Previous research examining the CLS and the encoding and consolidation of newly learned words in memory mostly focused on learning new word forms, without explicitly taking semantics into account. Recently researchers have started investigating the role of word meanings. In an ERP study by Bakker, Takashima, van Hell, Janzen, and McQueen (2015), participants learned novel printed words paired with novel meanings on both Day 1 and Day 2. Immediately after word learning on Day 2, participants were administered a semantic priming task, which included words learnt on both Day 1 and Day 2, while EEG/ERPs were recorded. Indexed by N400 and LPC components, Bakker et al. (2015) found that novel word forms learnt on Day 1 had been lexicalized after a 24-hour consolidation period, whereas the semantic integration process has started but was not yet completed. One question that remains to be addressed is the effect of prior language learning experience on acquiring novel words. Bakker et al. (2015) tested Dutch native speakers who were all experienced foreign language learners; they were proficient in English and has also learned German and French as foreign languages. Previous behavioral studies demonstrate an advantage of bilingual speakers over monolingual speakers in learning novel words (e.g., Kaushanskaya, 2012; Kaushanskaya & Marian, 2009; Papagno & Vallar, 1995; Van Hell & Mahn, 1997). This raises the question whether Bakker et al.’s findings generalize to monolinguals with very little prior experience in learning foreign languages. In the current study, we examined novel word learning and consolidation in monolingual English speakers, tested in the United States, using Bakker et al.’s paradigm and recording EEG/ERPs. The N400 responses to novel words learnt on Day 1 patterned with responses to novel words learnt on Day 2, indicating that novel word forms learnt on Day 1 have not been lexicalized and integrated into the monolingual learners’ lexical network after 24 hours, in contrast to the experienced foreign language learners tested by Bakker et al. (2015). In terms of semantic integration, when preceded by semantically related words, no evidence of automatic semantic retrieval was observed in the N400 window, regardless whether novel words were learnt on Day 1 or Day 2. However, novel words learnt on Day 1 revealed a stronger reanalysis effect in the LPC window, while novel words learnt on Day 2 only showed this reanalysis effect when they were preceded by more strongly related prime words. These findings provide further insight into the effect of prior language learning experience on novel word learning and consolidation: neural responses of experienced foreign language learners demonstrate overnight consolidation of novel word forms, but such consolidation effects do not emerge as strongly in monolinguals’ neural responses.

Topic Area: Meaning: Lexical Semantics