Memory formation involves the synchronous firing of neurons in task-relevant networks, with recent models postulating that a decrease in low-frequency oscillatory activity underlies successful memory encoding and retrieval. However, to date, this relationship has been investigated primarily with face and image stimuli; considerably less is known about the oscillatory correlates of complex rule learning, as in language. Furthermore, recent work has shown that nonoscillatory (1/ƒ) activity is functionally relevant to cognition, yet its interaction with oscillatory activity during complex rule learning remains unknown. Using spectral decomposition and power-law exponent estimation of human EEG data (17 women, 18 men), we show for the first time that 1/ƒ and oscillatory activity jointly influence the learning of word order rules of a miniature artificial language system. Flexible word-order rules were associated with a steeper 1/ƒ slope, whereas fixed word-order rules were associated with a shallower slope. We also show that increased theta and alpha power predicts fixed relative to flexible word-order rule learning and behavioral performance. Together, these results suggest that 1/ƒ activity plays an important role in higher-order cognition, including language processing, and that grammar learning is modulated by different word-order permutations, which manifest in distinct oscillatory profiles.

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