Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 48, Issue 6, pp 1407–1428 | Cite as

Morphological De-com-pos-it-ion Helps Recognize Low-er Frequency Words in Typically Developing Spanish-Speaking Children

  • María Josefina D’AlessioEmail author
  • Maximiliano A. Wilson
  • Virginia Jaichenco


Several studies in Spanish and other languages have shown that, in a lexical decision task, children are more likely to accept pseudowords with a known morphological structure as words as compared to non-morphological pseudowords. Morphology also facilitates visual word recognition of actual words in children with reading difficulties. In the present study, we explored the role of morphology, frequency and reading proficiency (measured by school grade) in visual word recognition. Typically developing readers of Spanish from 2nd, 4th and 6th grades performed a lexical decision task in which the morphological complexity and the frequency of the words were factorially manipulated. Our results showed that morphology benefited the accuracy of visual word recognition for low frequency words only. We conclude that decomposition in morphemes occurs in Spanish only for less frequent words. These results in Spanish support models that posit the decomposition of morphologically complex words in the orthographic lexicon.


Morphological processing Lexical decision Spanish Literacy acquisition Word frequency 



This work was supported by funds granted to VJ by UBACyT (Grant Numbers 20020120100210 and 20020160100123BA), an Insight Development Grant awarded to MAW by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (CRSH) of Canada (Grant Number: 430-2015-00699), and PhD scholarships awarded to MJD by Universidad de Buenos Aires and CONICET, Argentina.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Angelelli, P., Marinelli, C. V., & Burani, C. (2014). The effect of morphology on spelling and reading accuracy: A study on Italian children. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1–10. Scholar
  2. Ardila, A., & Cuetos, F. (2016). Applicability of dual-route reading models to Spanish. Psicothema, 28(1), 71–75. Scholar
  3. Baayen, R. H., Davidson, D. J., & Bates, D. M. (2008). Mixed-effects modeling with crossed random effects for subjects and items. Journal of Memory and Language, 59(4), 390–412. Scholar
  4. Barr, D. J., Levy, R., Scheepers, C., & Tily, H. J. (2013). Random effects structure for confirmatory hypothesis testing: Keep it maximal. Journal of Memory and Language, 68(3), 255–278. Scholar
  5. Bates, D., Kliegl, R., Vasishth, S., & Baayen, H. R. (2015). Parsimonious mixed models. arXiv:1506.04967.
  6. Beyersmann, E., Castles, A., & Coltheart, M. (2012). Morphological processing during visual word recognition in developing readers: Evidence from masked priming. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 65(7), 1306–1326. Scholar
  7. Beyersmann, E., Grainger, J., Casalis, S., & Ziegler, J. (2015). Effects of reading proficiency on embedded stem priming in primary school children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 139, 115–126. Scholar
  8. Boukadi, M., Potvin, K., Macoir, J., Laforce, R. J., Poulin, S., Brambati, S. M., et al. (2016). Lexical decision with pseudohomophones and reading in the semantic variant of primary progressive aphasia: A double dissociation. Neuropsychologia, 86, 45–56. Scholar
  9. Burani, C. (2010). Word morphology enhances reading fluency in children with developmental dyslexia. Lingue e linguaggio, 2, 177–198. Scholar
  10. Burani, C., Marcolini, S., De Luca, M., & Zoccolotti, P. (2008). Morpheme-based reading aloud: Evidence from dyslexic and skilled Italian readers. Cognition, 108, 243–262. Scholar
  11. Burani, C., Marcolini, S., & Stella, G. (2002). How early does morpholexical reading develop in readers of a shallow orthography? Brain and Language, 81, 568–586. Scholar
  12. Butterworth, B. (1983). Lexical representation. In B. Butterworth (Ed.), Language production (Vol. II, pp. 257–294). London: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  13. Carlisle, J. F. (1995). Morphological awareness and early reading achievement. In L. B. Feldman (Ed.), Morphological aspects of language processing (pp. 189–209). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  14. Carlisle, J. F., & Stone, A. (2005). Exploring the role of morphemes in word reading. Reading Research Quarterly, 40(4), 428–449. Scholar
  15. Casalis, S., Quémart, P., & Duncan, L. G. (2015). How language affects children’s use of derivational morphology in visual word and pseudoword processing: Evidence from a cross-language study. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1–10. Scholar
  16. Chialant, D., & Caramazza, A. (1995). Where is morphology and how is it processed. In L. B. Feldman (Ed.), Morphological aspects of language processing (pp. 55–76). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  17. Chumbley, J. I., & Balota, D. A. (1984). A word’s meaning affects the decision in lexical decision. Memory and Cognition, 12(6), 590–606. Scholar
  18. Coltheart, M., & Rastle, K. (1994). Serial processing in reading aloud: Evidence for dual-route models of reading. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 20(6), 1197–1211. Scholar
  19. Coltheart, M., Rastle, K., Perry, C., Langdon, R., & Ziegler, J. (2001). DRC: A dual route cascaded model of visual word recognition and reading aloud. Psychological Review, 108(1), 204–256. Scholar
  20. D’Alessio, M. J., & Jaichenco, V. (2016). Acerca del rol de la morfología derivativa en la lectura: Investigaciones psicolingüísticas en español. Signo y Seña, 29, 235–251.Google Scholar
  21. D’Alessio, M. J., Jaichenco, V., & Wilson, M. (2018). The role of morphology in word naming in spanish-speaking children. Applied Psycholinguistics, 39(5), 1065–1093. Scholar
  22. Davies, R., Cuetos, F., & Glez-Seijas, R. M. (2007). Reading development and dyslexia in a transparent orthography: A survey of Spanish children. Annals of Dyslexia, 57, 179–198. Scholar
  23. Davies, R., Wilson, M., Cuetos, F., & Burani, C. (2014). Reading in Spanish and Italian: Effects of age-of-acquisition in transparent orthographies? The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 67(9), 1808–1825. Scholar
  24. Davis, C. J., & Perea, M. (2005). BuscaPalabras: A program for deriving orthographic and phonological neighborhood statistics and other psycholinguistic indices in Spanish. Behavior Research Methods, 37(4), 665–671. Scholar
  25. Dawson, N., Rastle, K., & Ricketts, J. (2017). Morphological effects in visual word recognition: Children, adolecents, and adults. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 44(4), 645–654. Scholar
  26. De Rosario Martínez, H. (2015). Analyzing interactions of fitted models. Retrieved February 25, 2019.Google Scholar
  27. Deacon, S. H., Parrila, R., & Kirby, J. R. (2008). A review of the evidence on morphological processing in dyslexics and poor readers: A strength or weakness? In G. Reid, A. Fawcett, F. Manis, & L. Siegel (Eds.), The Sage handbook of dyslexia (pp. 212–237). London: SAGE Publishing.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Defior Citoler, S., Fonseca, L., Gottheil, B., Aldrey, A., Pujals, M., Rosa, G., et al. (2007). LEE. Test de lectura y escritura en español. Psicología y psicopedagogía, 17, 1–7.Google Scholar
  29. Diependaele, K., Grainger, J., & Sandra, D. (2012). Derivational morphology and skilled reading: An empirical overview. In M. J. Spivey, K. McRae, & M. F. Joanisse (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of psycholinguistics. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Domínguez, A., Cuetos, F., & Seguí, J. (2000). Morphological processing in word recognition: A review with particular reference to Spanish data. Psicológica, 21, 375–401.Google Scholar
  31. Forster, K. I., & Forster, J. C. (2003). DMDX: A Windows display program with millisecond accuracy. Behavioral Research Methods, Instrument and Computers, 35, 116–124. Scholar
  32. Gordon, B. (1983). Lexical access and lexical decision: Mechanisms of frequency sensitivity. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 22, 24–44. Scholar
  33. Grainger, J., & Ziegler, J. (2011). A dual-route approach to orthographic processing. Frontiers in Psychology, 2(54), 1–13. Scholar
  34. Guo, G., & Zhao, H. (2000). Multilevel modeling for binary data. Annual Review of Sociology, 26(1), 441–462. Scholar
  35. Jaichenco, V., & Wilson, M. (2013). El rol de la morfología en el proceso de aprendizaje de la lectura en español. Interdisciplinaria, 30(1), 85–99.Google Scholar
  36. Lázaro, M., Camacho, L., & Burani, C. (2013). Morphological processing in reading disabled and skilled Spanish children. Dyslexia, 19, 178–188. Scholar
  37. Marcolini, S., Traficante, D., Zoccolotti, P., & Burani, C. (2011). Word frequency modulates morpheme-based reading in poor and skilled Italian readers. Applied Psycholinguistics, 32(03), 513–532. Scholar
  38. Martínez Martín, J., & García Pérez, E. (2004). Diccionario de frecuencias del castellano escrito en niños de 6 a 12 años. Salamanca: Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca.Google Scholar
  39. Nagy, W. E., & Anderson, R. C. (1984). How many words are there in printed school English? Reading Research Quarterly, 19, 304–330. Scholar
  40. Pena, J. (1999). Partes de la morfología. Las unidades de análisis morfológico. In I. Bosque & V. Demonte (Eds.), Gramática descriptiva de la lengua española (Vol. 3). Madrid: Espasa.Google Scholar
  41. Quémart, P., Casalis, S., & Duncan, L. G. (2012). Exploring the role of bases and suffixes when reading familiar and unfamiliar words: Evidence from French young readers. Scientific Studies of Reading, 16(5), 424–442. Scholar
  42. Quené, H., & Van den Bergh, H. (2008). Examples of mixed-effects modeling with crossed random effects and with binomial data. Journal of Memory and Language, 59(4), 413–425. Scholar
  43. Raman, I. (2011). The role of age of acquisition in picture and word naming in dyslexic adults. British Journal of Psychology, 102(3), 328–339. Scholar
  44. Raman, I., & Weekes, B. S. (2005). Deep dysgraphia in Turkish. Behavioural Neurology, 16(2–3), 59–69. Scholar
  45. Ramos, J. L., & Cuetos, F. (2009). PROLEC-SE. Evaluación de los Procesos Lectores en Alumnos de 3º Ciclo de Primaria y Secundaria. Madrid: TEA Ediciones.Google Scholar
  46. Rastle, K. (2019). The place of morphology in learning to read in English. Cortex, 116, 45–54. Scholar
  47. Schilling, H. E. H., Rayner, K., & Chumbley, J. I. (1998). Comparing naming, lexical decision, and eye fixation times: Word frequency effects and individual differences. Memory and Cognition, 26(6), 1270–1281. Scholar
  48. Schreuder, R., & Baayen, H. R. (1995). Modeling Morphological Processing. In L. B. Feldman (Ed.), Morphological aspects of language processing (pp. 131–154). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  49. Sebastián Gallés, N. (2000). LEXESP: Léxico informatizado del español. Barcelona: Edicions Universitat de Barcelona.Google Scholar
  50. Seymour, P., Aro, M., & Erskine, J. (2003). Foundation literacy acquisition in European orthographies. British Journal of Psychology, 94, 143–174. Scholar
  51. Share, D. (1995). Phonological recoding and self-teaching: Sine qua non of reading acquisition. Cognition, 55(2), 151–218. Scholar
  52. Suárez-Coalla, P., & Cuetos, F. (2013). The role of morphology in reading in Spanish-speaking children with dyslexia. Spanish Journal of Psychology, 16(e51), 1–7. Scholar
  53. Suárez-Coalla, P., Martínez-García, C., & Cuetos, F. (2017). Morpheme-based reading and writing in Spanish children with dyslexia. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1–10. Scholar
  54. Taft, M. (1979). Recognition of affixed words and the word frequency effect. Memory and Cognition, 7(4), 263–272. Scholar
  55. Taft, M., & Forster, K. I. (1975). Lexical storage and retrieval of prefixed words. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 14, 638–647. Scholar
  56. Taft, M., & Forster, K. I. (1976). Lexical storage and retrieval of polymorphemic and pollysylabic words. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 15, 607–620. Scholar
  57. Verhoeven, L., & Perfetti, C. (2011). Morphological processing in reading acquisition: A cross-linguistic perspective. Applied Psycholinguistics, 32, 457–466. Scholar
  58. Wilson, M., Cuetos, F., Davies, R., & Burani, C. (2013). Revisiting age-of-acquisition effects in Spanish visual word recognition: The role of item imageability. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 39(6), 1842–1859. Scholar
  59. Wimmer, H. (2006). Don’t neglect reading fluency! Developmental Science, 9(5), 447. Scholar
  60. Ziegler, J., & Goswami, U. (2005). Reading acquisition, developmental dyslexia, and skilled reading across languages: A psycholinguistic grain size theory. Psychological Bulletin, 131(1), 3–29. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto de Lingüística, Facultad de Filosofía y LetrasUniversidad de Buenos AiresBuenos AiresArgentina
  2. 2.Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET)Buenos AiresArgentina
  3. 3.Centre de recherche CERVO et Département de réadaptationUniversité LavalQuébecCanada

Personalised recommendations