Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Language Proficiency and Morpho-Orthographic Segmentation

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Language Proficiency and Morpho-Orthographic Segmentation

Article excerpt

Published online: 28 October 2014

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract One key finding in support of the hypothesis that written words are automatically parsed into component morphemes independently of the true morphological structure of the stimuli, so-called morpho-orthographic segmentation, is that suffixed nonword primes facilitate the visual recognition of a stem target (rapidifier-RAPIDE) whereas non-suffixed primes (rapiduit-RAPIDE) do not. However, Morris, Porter, Grainger, and Holcomb (Language & Cognitive Processes, 26(4-6), 558-599, 2011)reported equivalent priming from suffixed and non-suffixed nonword primes, hence questioning the morphological nature of prior findings. Here we provide a further investigation of masked priming with morphologically complex nonword primes with an aim to isolate factors that modulate the size of these priming effects. We conducted a masked primed lexical decision experiment in French, in which the same target (TRISTE) was preceded by a suffixed word (tristesse), a suffixed nonword (tristerie), a non-suffixed nonword (tristald), or an unrelated prime word (direction). Participants were split into two groups, based on their language proficiency. The results show that in the high proficiency group, comparable magnitudes of priming were obtained in all three related prime conditions (including the non-suffixed condition) relative to unrelated primes, whereas in the low proficiency group, priming was significantly reduced in the non-suffixed condition compared to the two suffixed conditions. These findings provide further evidence that individual differences in language proficiency can modulate the impact of morphological factors during reading, and an explanation for the discrepant findings in prior research.

Keywords Morphological processing . Morpho-orthographic segmentation . Language proficiency . Lexical decision . Masked priming

Much recent research has been dedicated towards understanding how morphologically complex words are processed during visual word recognition. One key finding, obtained using masked priming combined with the lexical decision task, is that the recognition of a target word is facilitated when preceded by a related morphologically complex word (painterPAINT) or a word with a pseudo-morphological structure (corner-CORN), relative to non-morphological controls (cashew-CASH). Such evidence suggests that not only suffixed (painter) but also pseudo-suffixed words (corner) are rapidly decomposed into their morpho-orthographic subunits (paint+er; corn+ er) at early stages of visual word recognition (for a review, see Rastle & Davis, 2008), and points to an initial morpho-orthographic segmentation process that is sensitive to surface morphological structure independently of the true morphological status of the constituents (Diependaele, Sandra, & Grainger, 2009; Longtin, Segui, & Hallé, 2003; Rastle, Davis, & New, 2004; Taft, 2004).

Particularly convincing evidence for rapid, automatic morpho-orthographic segmentation comes from a number of studies using morphologically structured nonwords as primes. Longtin and Meunier (2005) carried out a masked priming study in French in which primes were always nonwords. They compared semantically interpretable (rapidifier-RAPIDE) and non-interpretable (sportation-SPORT) nonword primes, and found similar-sized effects relative to a nonmorphological control (rapiduit-RAPIDE,where"uit" is not a suffix), suggesting that morphological segmentation occurs for all morphologically structured items, even if they are not words (for related evidence from Spanish, see also Beyersmann, Duñabeitia, Carreiras, Coltheart, & Castles, 2013). McCormick, Rastle, and Davis (2009)reportedsimilar effects in English, demonstrating that morphologically complex nonwords with orthographic alterations in the stem (e.g., adorage-ADORE) produced significant priming of the stemtarget. Such priming effects constitute particularly strong evidence for fast-acting, automatic morpho-orthographic segmentation processes operating on any string of letters composed of a stem and an affix, independently of the lexical status of the string and the legality of the morpheme combination. …

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