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Sci Rep. 2019 Feb 4;9(1):1124. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-37654-9.

The word order of languages predicts native speakers' working memory.

Author information

1
Junior Research Group "Primate Kin Selection", Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Department of Primatology, Deutscher Platz 6, 04103, Leipzig, Germany. amici@eva.mpg.de.
2
University of Leipzig Faculty of Life Science, Institute of Biology, Behavioral Ecology Research Group, Talstrasse 33, 04103, Leipzig, Germany. amici@eva.mpg.de.
3
Department of Comparative and Developmental Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, 04103, Leipzig, Germany.
4
Department of Cognitive Science, University of California San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA, 92093-0515, USA.
5
William James Center for Research, ISPA-Instituto Universitário, Rua Jardim do Tabaco 34, 1149-041, Lisboa, Portugal.
6
Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology, Institute of Psychology, University of Bern, Hochschulstrasse 6, 3012, Bern, Switzerland.
7
Pedagogische Hochschule, University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland, Bahnhofstrasse 6, 5210, Windisch, Switzerland.
8
Department of International Programs, Florida State University, C/ Blanquerías 2, 46003, Valencia, Spain.

Abstract

The relationship between language and thought is controversial. One hypothesis is that language fosters habits of processing information that are retained even in non-linguistic domains. In left-branching (LB) languages, modifiers usually precede the head, and real-time sentence comprehension may more heavily rely on retaining initial information in working memory. Here we presented a battery of working memory and short-term memory tasks to adult native speakers of four LB and four right-branching (RB) languages from Africa, Asia and Europe. In working memory tasks, LB speakers were better than RB speakers at recalling initial stimuli, but worse at recalling final stimuli. Our results show that the practice of parsing sentences in specific directions due to the syntax and word order of our native language not only predicts the way we remember words, but also other non-linguistic stimuli.

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