Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Morphemes in Their Place: Evidence for Position-Specific Identification of Suffixes

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Morphemes in Their Place: Evidence for Position-Specific Identification of Suffixes

Article excerpt

Previous research strongly suggests that morphologically complex words are recognized in terms of their constituent morphemes. A question thus arises as to how the recognition system codes for morpheme position within words, given that it needs to distinguish morphological anagrams like overhang and hangover. The present study focused specifically on whether the recognition of suffixes occurs in a position-specific fashion. Experiments 1 and 2 revealed that morphologically complex nonwords (gasful) are rejected more slowly than orthographic controls (gasfil) but that the same interference effect is not present when the morphemic constituents are reversed (fulgas vs. filgas). Experiment 3 went further in demonstrating that reversing the morphemes within words (e.g., nesskind) does not yield morpheme interference effects against orthographic controls (e.g., nusskind). These results strongly suggest that suffix identification is position specific, which imposes important constraints on the further development of models of morphological processing.

Previous research on the identification of morphologically complex words like player has established that such words are decomposed into their constituent morphemes (i.e., play + er) during recognition. Evidence for decomposition comes largely from the findings that (1) the time taken to recognize a morphologically complex word is partly determined by the frequency of its stem (e.g., Baayen, Dijkstra, & Schreuder, 1997; Bradley, 1980; New, Brysbaert, Segui, Ferrand, & Rastle, 2004) and (2) the recognition of stem targets is speeded by the prior brief presentation of morphologically related words (e.g., Drews & Zwitserlood, 1995; Grainger, Colé, & Segui, 1991; Rastle, Davis, Marslen- Wilson, & Tyler, 2000) more than would be expected on the basis of pure orthographic or semantic overlap.

Another well-described phenomenon used to investigate morpheme recognition is the morpheme interference effect on nonword rejection times. This effect refers to the finding that nonwords comprising existing morphemes (e.g., shootment) are rejected more slowly in lexical decision than are nonwords that do not have a morphological structure (e.g., shootmant). This result was first reported by Taft and Forster (1975), who found that nonwords composed of existing prefixes and bound stems (e.g., dejuvenate) were rejected more slowly than were nonwords composed of the same prefixes but nonexisting stems (e.g., depertoire). Caramazza, Laudanna, and Romani (1988) went on to show that Italian pseudoinflected nonwords comprising existing stems and suffixes (e.g., cant-evi, similar to buyed in English) were rejected more slowly and elicited higher error rates than did (1) nonwords comprising stems plus a nonsuffix endings (e.g., cant-ovi, buyel), (2) nonwords comprising nonstems plus suffix endings (e.g., canz-evi, biyed), and (3) nonwords comprising nonstems plus nonsuffix endings (e.g., canz-ovi, biyel). The usual explanation for this effect is that morphemic representations are activated during the processing of morphologically structured nonwords, thus slowing rejection time (Caramazza et al., 1988). In contrast to some recent models claiming that morphological processing is a postlexical phenomenon (e.g., Giraudo & Grainger, 2001), the morpheme interference effect suggests strongly that morphemic representations are activated prior to the activation of orthographic lexical entries (see also Kazanina, Dukova-Zheleva, Geber, Kharlamov, & Tonciulescu, 2008; Longtin, Segui, & Hallé, 2003; Marslen-Wilson, Bozic, & Randall, 2008; Rastle, Davis, & New, 2004; Taft, 1994).

Evidence that morphologically complex words are recognized through a process of decomposition that takes place prior to the activation of orthographic lexical entries raises an important theoretical issue that has largely gone unnoticed in psycholinguistic research. Specifically, how is it that we are able to distinguish between morphologically complex stimuli comprising the same morphemes but in reversed order (e. …

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