Prediction errors drive implicit learning in language, but the specific mechanisms underlying these effects remain debated. This issue was addressed in an EEG study manipulating the context of a repeated unpredictable word (repetition of the complete sentence or repetition of the word in a new sentence context) and sentence constraint. For the manipulation of sentence constraint, unexpected words were presented either in high-constraint (eliciting a precise prediction) or low-constraint sentences (not eliciting any specific prediction). Repetition-induced reduction of N400 amplitudes and of power in the alpha/beta frequency band was larger for words repeated with their sentence context as compared with words repeated in a new low-constraint context, suggesting that implicit learning happens not only at the level of individual items but additionally improves sentence-based predictions. These processing benefits for repeated sentences did not differ between constraint conditions, suggesting that sentence-based prediction update might be proportional to the amount of unpredicted semantic information, rather than to the precision of the prediction that was violated. In addition, the consequences of high-constraint prediction violations, as reflected in a frontal positivity and increased theta band power, were reduced with repetition. Overall, our findings suggest a powerful and specific adaptation mechanism that allows the language system to quickly adapt its predictions when unexpected semantic information is processed, irrespective of sentence constraint, and to reduce potential costs of strong predictions that were violated.

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