Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Effects of Word Length on Eye Movement Control: The Evidence from Arabic

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Effects of Word Length on Eye Movement Control: The Evidence from Arabic

Article excerpt

Published online: 18 February 2015

# Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2015

Abstract The finding that word length plays a fundamental role in determining where and for how long readers fixate within a line of text has been central to the development of sophisticated models of eye movement control. However, research in this area is dominated by the use of Latinate languages (e.g., English, French, German), and little is known about eye movement control for alphabetic languages with very different visual characteristics. To address this issue, the present experiment undertook a novel investigation of the influence of word length on eye movement behavior when reading Arabic. Arabic is an alphabetic language that not only is read from right to left but has visual characteristics fundamentally different from Latinate languages, and so is ideally suited to testing the generality of mechanisms of eye movement control. The findings reveal that readers were more likely to fixate and refixate longer words, and also that longer words tended to be fixated for longer. In addition, word length influenced the landing positions of initial fixations on words, with the effect that readers fixated the center of short words and fixated closer to the beginning letters for longer words, and the location of landing positions affected both the duration of the first fixation and probability of refixating the word. The indication now, therefore, is that effects of word length are a widespread and fundamental component of reading and play a central role in guiding eye-movement behavior across a range of very different alphabetic systems.

Keywords Arabic . Eye movements during reading . Eye movement control

During reading, the eyes move along lines of text in a sequence of saccadic movements separated by brief fixational pauses during which visual information is acquired. This behavior results from changes in retinal acuity, which is greatest at the point of fixation and declines sharply with increasing eccentricity (Hilz & Cavonius, 1974). Saccadic eye movements compensate for this limited acuity by producing shifts in the location of fixations so that text previously located away from the point of fixation is brought into high acuity vision.

Research on the spatial and temporal characteristics of eye movements is crucial for revealing the influence of the visual characteristics of text on when and where the eyes move during reading (e.g., Rayner, 2009), and is central to the development of models of eye movement control (e.g., Engbert, Nuthmann, Richter, & Kliegl 2005; Reichle, Rayner, & Pollatsek 2003). However, research on this topic has been conducted primarily in languages based on the Latin alphabet (e.g., English, French, German), and, while recent research has examined non-alphabetic languages like Chinese (e.g., Li, Liu, & Rayner 2011), little is known about eye movements for alphabetic languages with fundamentally different visual characteristics. Arabic is the second-most widely read alphabetic language (after English) across the globe, yet few studies have examined eye movements when reading Arabic (e.g., Roman & Pavard, 1987;Roman,Pavard,&Asseleh,1985) and, with the exception of a recent investigation of the perceptual span (Jordan, Almabruk, et al., 2014), have not examined fundamental visual influences on eye movement control. But in addition to being read from right to left, Arabic is printed in cursive script in which individual letters generally are not well segregated, and letter size and shape can vary depending on the location within words (Ibrahim, Eviatar, & Aharon-Peretz, 2002; Jordan, Sheen, AlJassmi, & Paterson, 2015). Accordingly, research on the influence of the visual characteristics of Arabic on readers' eye movements would extend substantially our understanding of visual influences on oculomotor control across different languages.

A particular consideration for the present research is that, in Latinate languages, word length has a major influence on where readers look and for how long. …

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