Successful language processing entails tracking (morpho)syntactic relationships between distant units of speech, so-called nonadjacent dependencies (NADs). Many cues to such dependency relations have been identified, yet the linguistic elements encoding them have received little attention. In the present investigation, we tested whether and how these elements, here syllables, consonants, and vowels, affect behavioral learning success as well as learning-related changes in neural activity in relation to item-specific NAD learning. In a set of two EEG studies with adults, we compared learning under conditions where either all segment types (Experiment 1) or only one segment type (Experiment 2) was informative. The collected behavioral and ERP data indicate that, when all three segment types are available, participants mainly rely on the syllable for NAD learning. With only one segment type available for learning, adults also perform most successfully with syllable-based dependencies. Although we find no evidence for successful learning across vowels in Experiment 2, dependencies between consonants seem to be identified at least passively at the phonetic-feature level. Together, these results suggest that successful item-specific NAD learning may depend on the availability of syllabic information. Furthermore, they highlight consonants' distinctive power to support lexical processes. Although syllables show a clear facilitatory function for NAD learning, the underlying mechanisms of this advantage require further research.

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