[Colloquium] Building implicit linguistic knowledge through passive exposure

In this talk, I outline recent work that investigates how humans can build implicit lexical and phonotactic knowledge of a language they don't speak simply through being exposed to it regularly, and how this process may be affected by structural and social aspects. I look first at the implicit learning of Māori, the Indigenous language of Aotearoa New Zealand, by New Zealanders who are surrounded by it in everyday life but can't speak it. By applying computational modeling to experimental results, I show that non-Māori-speaking New Zealanders have a surprising amount of lexical and phonotactic knowledge of Māori, which is best explained by the assumption that they have an implicit memory store of approximately 1,500 distinct morphemes. Through consideration of machine learning of morphological segmentation, I describe how this learning is facilitated by the heavy use of compounding in Māori. I then turn to examine the implicit learning of Spanish, which has a much lower relative degree of compounding, in California and Texas. I show that Californians and Texans who don't speak Spanish have implicit lexical and phonotactic knowledge of it, much like non-Māori-speaking New Zealanders do of Māori, but that the form of this knowledge appears to be affected by the morphological differences between the languages. Furthermore, I show that the strength of implicit knowledge evidenced by non-Spanish-speaking Californians and Texans is affected by the attitudes they hold toward Spanish and its speakers, supporting previous work that demonstrates how listeners' attitudes affect not only the conscious actions they take in response to a speaker, but also the way they unconsciously process and represent speech.