, Volume 19, Issue 5, pp 942-947
Date: 06 Jun 2012

Are all Semitic languages immune to letter transpositions? The case of Maltese


Recent research using the rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) paradigm with English sentences that included words with letter transpositions (e.g., jugde) has shown that participants can readily reproduce the correctly spelled sentences with little cost; in contrast, there is a dramatic reading cost with root-derived Hebrew words (Velan & Frost, Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 14:913–918, 2007, Cognition 118:141–156, 2011). This divergence could be due to (1) the processing of root-derived words in Semitic languages or (2) the peculiarities of the transitional probabilities in root-derived Hebrew words. Unlike Hebrew, Maltese is a Semitic language that does not omit vowel information in print and whose morphology also has a significant non-Semitic (mostly Romance) morphology. Here, we employed the same RSVP technique used by Velan and Frost (Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 14:913–918, 2007, Cognition 118:141–156, 2011), this time with Maltese (and English) sentences. The results showed that Maltese–English bilinguals were able to reproduce the Maltese words—regardless of whether they were misspelled (involving the transposition of two letters from the consonantal root) or not, with no reading cost—just as in English. The apparent divergences between the RSVP data with Hebrew versus Maltese sentences are likely due to the combination of the characteristics of the Hebrew orthographic system with the Semitic morphology.