Statistical structure abounds in language. Human infants show a striking capacity for using statistical learning (SL) to extract regularities in their linguistic environments, a process thought to bootstrap their knowledge of language. Critically, studies of SL test infants in the minutes immediately following familiarization, but long-term retention unfolds over hours and days, with almost no work investigating retention of SL. This creates a critical gap in the literature given that we know little about how single or multiple SL experiences translate into permanent knowledge. Furthermore, different memory systems with vastly different encoding and retention profiles emerge at different points in development, with the underlying memory system dictating the fidelity of the memory trace hours later. I describe the scant literature on retention of SL, the learning and retention properties of memory systems as they apply to SL, and the development of these memory systems. I propose that different memory systems support retention of SL in infant and adult learners, suggesting an explanation for the slow pace of natural language acquisition in infancy. I discuss the implications of developing memory systems for SL and suggest that we exercise caution in extrapolating from adult to infant properties of SL.
This article is part of the themed issue ‘New frontiers for statistical learning in the cognitive sciences’.
One contribution of 13 to a theme issue ‘New frontiers for statistical learning in the cognitive sciences’.
- Accepted August 31, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.