Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Stress Assignment in Reading Italian: Friendship Outweighs Dominance

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Stress Assignment in Reading Italian: Friendship Outweighs Dominance

Article excerpt

Published online: 29 October 2013

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract Stress assignment to polysyllabic words is the only aspect of the pronunciation of written Italian that cannot be predicted by rule. It could be a function of stress dominance in the language or of stress neighborhood (i.e., the number of words sharing an ending and a stress pattern). In two experiments, we investigated stress assignment in Italian adult and, most importantly, young readers. Word frequency and number of stress friends influenced reading times and accuracy, outweighing any effect of stress dominance. In the presence of a majority of stress friends, the reading of lowfrequency words was only affected by stress neighborhood. These effects were the same in fourth graders and adult readers. We argue that distributional information based on the number of stress friends-rather than stress dominance-is the most effective factor in assigning stress to words in reading.

Keywords Stress assignment . Stress dominance . Stress neighborhood . Reading development

Stress assignment to polysyllabic words is the only source of inconsistency in reading aloud Italian, an orthography that is fully transparent. Italian has two main stress patterns for polysyllabic words-that is, penultimate stress, in which the penultimate syllable bears stress (e.g., par.TI.ta,1 "match"), and antepenultimate stress, in which the antepenultimate syllable bears stress (e.g., BI.bi.ta, "drink"). Most of the time the position of stress is not predictable by rule.2 To correctly assign stress to a word, an Italian reader must know the word. However, readers may assign stress on the basis of some statistical knowledge regarding the distribution of stress patterns in the language. In fact, the two main stress patterns have an asymmetrical distribution, with the majority of threeand more syllable words (around 80 %) bearing penultimate stress and far fewer words (around 18 %) bearing antepenultimate stress (Thornton, Iacobini & Burani, 1997).3

Some studies on adult reading have indicated that stress assignment to polysyllabic words may be affected by the most frequent stress pattern in the language (stress dominance). Colombo (1992) reported an effect of stress dominance-that is, penultimate (dominant) stress words were read faster than antepenultimate (nondominant) stress words, but only when they were of low frequency (see also, for English, Rastle & Coltheart, 2000; for similar results on Italian adults with acquired language impairments, Colombo, Fonti & Cappa, 2004; Laganaro, Vacheresse & Frauenfelder, 2002).

However, polysyllabic word reading is also affected by stress neighborhood-that is, the proportion of words in the language that share the same stress pattern and the same final orthographic-phonemic sequence (e.g., the final sequence -ola is associated with the least frequent stress-on the first syllable-since it occurs predominantly in three-syllabic words such as PEN.to.la "pot" that bear antepenultimate stress). Burani and Arduino (2004) challenged the stress dominance effect on low-frequency word reading by showing that when dominant and nondominant stressed low-frequency Italian words were matched for the number of stress friends and enemies, they did not differ significantly for naming times and accuracy. Furthermore, both dominant- and nondominant-stress lowfrequency words were easier to read when they had many stress friends than when they had many stress enemies. It was concluded that stress neighborhood is the most powerful determinant of stress placement on lowfrequency words and that stress neighborhood information is a much more reliable cue of stress assignment than is stress dominance.

Not only in Italian, but also in English, orthographic sequences carry information for stress pattern, and are thus especially important for English adult readers. Words with reliable orthographic cues to stress assignment were processed more successfully than words with misleading cues in reading and lexical decision, indicating that readers can learn orthographic correlates to lexical stress that are located in the final syllable (Arciuli & Cupples, 2006; Kelly, Morris & Verrekia, 1998). …

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