Behavioral signatures of memory resources for language: looking beyond the lexicon/grammar divide

Dagmar Divjak*, Petar Milin, Srdan Medimorec, Maciej Borowski

*Corresponding author for this work

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Although there is a broad consensus that both the procedural and declarative memory systems play a crucial role in language learning, use and knowledge, the mapping between linguistic types and memory structures remains underspecified: by default, a dual-route mapping of language systems to memory systems is assumed, with declarative memory handling idiosyncratic lexical knowledge and procedural memory handling rule-governed knowledge of grammar.

We experimentally contrast the processing of morphology (case and aspect), syntax (subordination) and lexical semantics (collocations) in a healthy L1 population of Polish, a language rich in form distinctions. We study the processing of these four types under two conditions: a single task condition in which the grammaticality of stimuli was judged, and a concurrent task condition in which grammaticality judgments were combined with a digit span task. Dividing attention impedes access to declarative memory while leaving procedural memory unaffected and hence constitutes a test that dissociates which types of linguistic information each long-term memory construct subserves.

Our findings confirm the existence of a distinction between lexicon and grammar as a generative, dual-route model would predict, but the distinction is graded, as usage-based models assume: the hypothesized grammar–lexicon opposition appears as a continuum on which grammatical phenomena can be placed as being more or less ‘ruly’ or ‘idiosyncratic’. However, usage-based models, too, need adjusting as not all types of linguistic knowledge are proceduralised to the same extent. This move away from a simple dichotomy fundamentally changes how we think about memory for language, and hence how we design and interpret behavioural and neuro-imaging studies that probe into the nature of language cognition.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13206
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 10 Nov 2022


  • Declarative
  • Procedural
  • Divided attention
  • Language
  • Memory
  • Dual task paradigm
  • Grammar
  • Lexicon


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