Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Early Morphological Processing Is Morphosemantic and Not Simply Morpho-Orthographic: A Violation of Form-Then-Meaning Accounts of Word Recognition

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Early Morphological Processing Is Morphosemantic and Not Simply Morpho-Orthographic: A Violation of Form-Then-Meaning Accounts of Word Recognition

Article excerpt

Many studies have suggested that a word's orthographic form must be processed before its meaning becomes available. Some interpret the (null) finding of equal facilitation after semantically transparent and opaque morphologically related primes in early stages of morphological processing as consistent with this view. Recent literature suggests that morphological facilitation tends to be greater after transparent than after opaque primes, however. To determine whether the degree of semantic transparency influences parsing into a stem and a suffix (morphological decomposition) in the forward masked priming variant of the lexical decision paradigm, we compared patterns of facilitation between semantically transparent (e.g., coolant-COOL) and opaque (e.g., rampant-RAMP) prime-target pairs. Form properties of the stem (frequency, neighborhood size, and prime-target letter overlap), as well as related-unrelated and transparent-opaque affixes, were matched. Morphological facilitation was significantly greater for semantically transparent pairs than for opaque pairs. Ratings of prime-target relatedness predicted the magnitude of facilitation. The results limit the scope of form-then-meaning models of word recognition and demonstrate that semantic similarity can influence even early stages of morphological processing.

A common assumption in models of word recognition is that a word's orthographic form must be processed before its meaning can become available. With respect to morphology, researchers typically assume that later stages of word recognition are influenced by semantic properties of the stem but that initial stages are solely orthographic. Thus, the failure to detect differing magnitudes of facilitation for whiter-white (semantically similar) and for corner-corn (semantically dissimilar) prime-target pairs when primes are forward masked at short stimulus onset asynchronies (SOAs) provides primary support for an early morphoorthographic stage in models of morphological processing in English (for a review, see Rueckl & Aicher, 2008). A meta-analytic review of these priming effects, however, raises the possibility of very early semantic effects insofar as morphological facilitation is slightly greater after transparent (semantically similar) than after opaque (semantically dissimilar) primes. Collectively, the results demonstrate the risk of using a (null) finding about differing facilitation after semantically transparent and opaque morphologically related primes to claim that parsability of a word's orthographic structure into a stem and an affix is devoid of morphosemantic structure (see Table 1).

Limits on the form-then-meaning assumption are not limited to morphological models of word recognition. Near simultaneous access to the orthophonological and semantic properties of words is central to some current neurophysiological theories of lexical processing. For instance, Pulvermüller, Assadollahi, and Elbert (2001) and Pulvermüller, Shtyrov, and Ilmoniemi (2003) reported that all of the cortical subnetworks (including semantic aspects) related to the processing of a word automatically fire with the activation of the subnetworks that encode orthographic and/or phonological forms of the words. In essence, early access to the semantic properties of words does not seem to be a peculiarity of masked priming in the lexical decision paradigm. Rather, it seems to be a general property of the system.

Evidence that the degree of similarity between the meanings of morphologically complex primes and their stems influences the magnitudes of morphological facilitation has been frequently documented with unmasked primes in Dutch (Diependaele, Sandra, & Grainger, 2005) and Serbian (Feldman, Barac-Cikoja, & Kostic, 2002), as well as English (Feldman & Soltano, 1999; Marslen-Wilson, Tyler, Waksler, & Older, 1994) and Hebrew (Bentin & Feldman, 1990). Semantic influences on morphological processing when primes are masked and/or appear at SOAs shorter than 60 msec have been more elusive, however. …

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