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Nonword repetition and word learning: The nature of the relationship


This article presents a theoretical framework designed to accommodate core evidence that the abilities to repeat nonwords and to learn the phonological forms of new words are closely linked. Basic findings relating nonword repetition and word learning both in typical samples of children and adults and in individuals with disorders of language learning are described. The theoretical analysis of this evidence is organized around the following claims: first, that nonword repetition and word learning both rely on phonological storage; second, that they are both multiply determined, constrained also by auditory, phonological, and speech–motor output processes; third, that a phonological storage deficit alone may not be sufficient to impair language learning to a substantial degree. It is concluded that word learning mediated by temporary phonological storage is a primitive learning mechanism that is particularly important in the early stages of acquiring a language, but remains available to support word learning across the life span.

Corresponding author
Susan E. Gathercole, Department of Psychology, University of York, Heslington, York YO10 5DD, UK. E-mail:
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Applied Psycholinguistics
  • ISSN: 0142-7164
  • EISSN: 1469-1817
  • URL: /core/journals/applied-psycholinguistics
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