Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

The Role of the Frequency of Constituents in Compound Words: Evidence from Basque and Spanish

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

The Role of the Frequency of Constituents in Compound Words: Evidence from Basque and Spanish

Article excerpt

Recent data from compound word processing suggests that compounds are recognized via their constituent lexemes (Juhasz, Starr, Inhoff, & Placke, 2003). The present lexical decision experiment manipulated orthogonally the frequency of the constituents of compound words in two languages: Basque and Spanish. Basque and Spanish diverge widely in their morphological properties and in the number of existing compound words. Furthermore, the head lexeme (i.e., the most meaningful lexeme related to the whole-word meaning) in Spanish tends to be the second lexeme, whereas in Basque the percentage is more distributed. Results showed a facilitative effect of the frequency of the second lexeme, in both Basque and Spanish compounds. Thus, both Basque and Spanish readers decompose compounds into their constituents for lexical access, and this decomposition is carried out in a language-independent and blind-to-semantics manner. We examine the implications of these results for models of lexical access.

Recent years have witnessed an increasing body of literature supporting the view that the early processing of printed words is influenced by morphology (see Frost, Grainger, & Rastle, 2005; Frost, Kugler, Deutsch, & Forster, 2005). Although most of the research on this issue has studied derivational/inflectional morphology, investigations into compound words also provide important knowledge about morphological and lexical parsing (see Juhasz, Inhoff, & Rayner, 2005).

There is some controversy as to exactly how polymorphemic words (including compound words) are represented in the mental lexicon. There are two main approaches to this question. On the one hand, a compound (e.g., weatherman) could be recognized via its constituents-via a lexeme parsing mechanism that enforces the conjunction of weather and man. In this view, the recognition of the whole word would be modulated by the properties of each lexeme (e.g., Andrews, 1986; Juhasz et al., 2005; Libben, 1998; Sandra, 1990; Taft, 1979; Zwitserlood, 1994). On the other hand, some researchers argue that decomposition may not be mandatory to access the meaning of a compound word. Even though the meaning of weatherman can be somehow derived from the meaning of its constituents, this must occur in supralexical processing of the compound (see Fowler, Napps, & Feldman, 1985; Giraudo & Grainger, 2001; Plaut & Gonnerman, 2000). The accumulated evidence for compound word processing strongly supports a third (hybrid) approach that assumes both a whole-word process and a sequential decomposition process (e.g., Bertram & Hyona, 2003; Inhoff, Radach, & Heller, 2000; Pollatsek, Hyona, & Bertram, 2000; Taft, 1994). When a reader encounters a compound word, segmentation mechanisms fire and constituents are progressively recognized, while the meaning of the whole compound is also achieved by a whole-word recognition pathway.

Lexical decomposition of compound words has often been examined by manipulating constituent frequency, while keeping constant the frequency of the compound word. There is empirical evidence showing that highfrequency constituents facilitate the recognition of the compound. For instance, farmhouse will be recognized faster than graveyard simply because both the first and second constituents are high-frequency lexemes in farmhouse, and low-frequency lexemes in graveyard (see Hyona & Pollatsek, 1998; Juhasz, Starr, Inhoff, & Placke, 2003; Shoolman & Andrews, 2003; Taft, 1979). Nonetheless, there is still a gap to be filled with regard to which lexeme, the first or the second, and therefore which frequency of constituent has a stronger weight in the processing of compounds. To our knowledge, only two articles have tackled this question by reporting an experimental manipulation involving an orthogonal design, while holding the frequency of the whole compound constant: Juhasz et al. (2003) and Andrews, Miller, and Rayner (2004, Experiment 1). …

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