Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Letter Transpositions within and across Morphemic Boundaries: Is There a Cross-Language Difference?

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Letter Transpositions within and across Morphemic Boundaries: Is There a Cross-Language Difference?

Article excerpt

Published online: 30 March 2013

(Q> Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract Research on the impact of letter transpositions that arise across morpheme boundaries has yielded conflicting results. These results have led to the suggestion that a cross- linguistic difference may exist in the recognition of Spanish and English words. In two masked-priming experiments run on separate groups of Spanish and English speakers, we tested this hypothesis by comparing the impacts of primes with letter transpositions that arose within morphemes or across morpheme boundaries on the recognition of identical or near-identical Spanish-English cognate targets. The results showed transposed-letter benefits in both Spanish and English that were not modulated by the position of the transposed letter in the prime stimulus. Our findings therefore add to the growing body of literature suggesting that the transposed-letter benefit is not affected by the position of the transposed letters relative to the morpheme boundary, and they dispel previous suggestions that there might be a genuine difference in orthographic coding across the Spanish and English writing systems.

Keywords Visual word recognition * Orthography * Masked priming

The recognition of a printed word such as pot requires the analysis of letter identity (p, o, t) as well as of letter order (that the p goes before both the o and the t). In the absence of an analysis of letter order in the word recognition process, readers would be unable to detect the difference between anagram stimuli such as pot, opt, and top, which share the same letters, but in different configurations. Yet, despite the importance of letter order for disambiguating similar words, recent research has shown that letter position coding is surprisingly imprecise (see Davis, 2005; Grainger, 2008).

Some of the key phenomena in this respect concern the recognition of printed stimuli with transposed letters, such as waht. Despite the transposition of letters in this stimulus, research has shown that it is perceived as being very similar to its base word, what. Using a masked-priming technique, Forster, Davis, Schoknecht, and Carter (1987) established that identity primes (e.g., what-WHAT) and transposed-letter primes (e.g., waht-WHAT) yielded equivalent facilitation on word recognition, and further, that both of these types of primes yielded more facilitation than did replaced-letter primes (e.g., wmt-WHAT). This basic finding has now been observed across a number of the world's languages (e.g., Lee & Taft, 2009; Perea & Lupker 2004; Schoonbaert & Grainger, 2004).

The transposed-letter benefit observed in masked priming (i.e., primes with transposed letters are more effective than those with replaced letters) has been interpreted as reflecting a degree of perceptual uncertainty in the coding of letter posi- tion (e.g., Davis, 2010; Gomez, Ratcliff, & Perea, 2008). Yet, there may be limits to readers' tolerance for imprecision in letter order during word recognition. For example, research has suggested that tolerance for letter transpositions is reduced when the transpositions occiu in external, as opposed to internal, positions (e.g., judeg-JUDGE vs. jugde-JUDGE; Johnson, Perea, & Rayner, 2007). The study of these limits of the transposed-letter benefit is important because it gives rise to a deeper understanding of the abstract representations at the foundation of reading.

One key controversy in this area concerns the impact of letter transpositions when they occur at a morpheme boundary (e.g., unreal for unreal). Christianson, Johnson, and Rayner (2005) investigated readers' tolerance for these kinds of trans- positions in a series of reading-aloud experiments using masked priming. In their third experiment, they compared the effects of letter transpositions on morphologically com- plex targets (e.g., BOASTER) and morphologically simple targets (e.g., BLUSTER, as blast is not a morpheme in English). …

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