Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Short Communication

Linguistic structure and short term memory

Emmanuel M. Pothos a1 and Patrick Juola a2
a1 School of Psychology, University of Bangor, Bangor LL57 2DG, United Kingdom
a2 Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA 15282


We provide additional support for Cowan's claim that short term memory (STM) involves a range of 3–5 tokens, on the basis of language correlational analyses. If language is at least partly learned, linguistic dependency structure should reflect properties of the cognitive components mediating learning; one such component is STM. In this view, the range over which statistical regularity extends in ordinary text would be suggestive of STM span. Our analyses of eight languages are consistent with STM span being about four chunks.