Reading and Writing

, Volume 28, Issue 6, pp 873–890 | Cite as

The relationship between morphological awareness and morphological decomposition among English language learners

  • Rachel KrautEmail author


Morphological awareness facilitates many reading processes. For this reason, L1 and L2 learners of English are often directly taught to use their knowledge of English morphology as a useful reading strategy for determining parts of speech and meaning of novel words. Over time, use of morphological awareness skills while reading develops into an automatic process for L1 readers called morphological decomposition. While the practice of explicitly teaching morphological awareness skills is prevalent in ESL classes, more research is needed to establish what is known about gains in L2 morphological awareness, and its relationship to the development of automatic morphological decomposition processes in English language learners. The present study seeks to shed light on the nature of this relationship across growth in L2 proficiency. Two experimental measures were used: a masked priming paradigm with a lexical decision task to explore priming evidence for morphological decomposition and a paper and pencil test of morphological awareness which required subjects to derive the base of a morphologically complex word. These tasks were administered to L1 (N = 43) and L2 groups (intermediate N = 16, advanced N = 16) of university-aged subjects. Results indicated that all subjects show repetition priming effects. However, despite a significant gain in explicit knowledge of English morphology across proficiency levels, L2 learners don’t develop an ability to morphologically decompose words in the unconscious, automatic way that native English speakers do, as evidenced by a lack of morphological priming. Implications for L2 pedagogy and L2 word storage in the mental lexicon are discussed.


Morphological awareness Morphological decomposition English learners Reading 



I would like to thank Dr. Kenneth Forster for all of his assistance and council in the development of the masked priming experiment.


  1. Baayen, R. H. (2008). Analyzing linguistic data: A practical introduction to statistics using R. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 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, 390–412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Carlisle, J. (1988). Knowledge of derivational morphology and spelling ability in fourth, sixth, and eighth graders. Applied Psycholinguistics, 9, 247–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Carlisle, J. (2000). Awareness of the structure and meaning of morphologically complex words: Impact on reading. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 12, 169–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Clahsen, H., & Felser, C. (2006). Grammatical processing in language learners. Applied Psycholinguistics, 27(1), 3–42. doi: 10.1017/S0142716406060024.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Council of Europe. (2001). Common European framework of reference for languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Diependaele, K., Duñabeitia, J. A., Morris, J., & Keuleers, E. (2011). Fast morphological effects in first and second language word recognition. Journal of Memory and Language, 64(4), 344358. doi: 10.1016/j.jml.2011.01.003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Feldman, L. B., O’Connor, P. A., & del Moscoso del Prado Martín, F. (2009). Early morphological processing is morphosemantic and not simply morpho-orthographic: A violation of form-then-meaning accounts of word recognition. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 16, 684–691.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Goldfield, J. (2010). Comparison of the ACTFL proficiency guidelines and the common European framework of reference (CEFR). Dr. Joel Goldfield. Retrieved December 8, 2013,
  10. Goodwin, A., Huggins, A., Carlo, M., August, D., & Calderon, M. (2013). Minding morphology: How morphological awareness relates to reading for English language learners. Reading and Writing, 26, 1387–1415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gor, K., & Cook, S. (2010). Non-native processing of verbal morphology: In search of regularity. Language Learning, 60(1), 88–126. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9922.2009.00552.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gor, K., & Jackson, S. (2013). Morphological decomposition and lexical access in a native and second language: A nesting doll effect. Language and Cognitive Processes, 28(7), 1065–1091.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Jiang, N. (2004). Morphological insensitivity in second language processing. Applied Psycholinguistics, 25, 603–634.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Jiang, N., Novokshanova, E., Masuda, K., & Wang, X. (2011). Morphological congruency and the acquisition of L2 morphemes. Language Learning, 61(3), 940–967.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kempley, S., & Morton, J. (1982). The effects of irregularly related words in auditory word recognition. British Journal of Psychology, 73, 441–454.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kieffer, M., & Lesaux, N. (2008). The role of derivational morphology in the reading comprehension of Spanish-speaking English language learners. Reading and Writing, 21, 783–804.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kieffer, M., & Lesaux, N. (2012). Direct and indirect roles of morphological awareness in the English reading comprehension of native English, Spanish, Filipino, and Vietnamese speakers. Language Learning, 62(4), 1170–1204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Marinova-Todd, S., Siegel, L., & Mazabel, S. (2013). The association between morphological awareness and literacy in English language learners from different language backgrounds. Topics in Language Disorders, 33(1), 93–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Murrell, G., & Morton, A. (1974). Word recognition and morphemic structures. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 102, 963–968.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ramirez, G., Esther Geva, X., & Luo, Y. (2011). Morphological awareness and word reading in English language learners: Evidence from Spanish- and Chinese-speaking children. Applied Psycholinguistics, 32, 601–618.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Rastle, K., Davis, M. H., & New, B. (2004). The broth in my brother’s brothel: Morpho-orthographic segmentation in visual word recognition. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 11, 1090–1098.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Silva, R., & Clahsen, H. (2008). Morphologically complex words in L1 and L2 processing: Evidence from masked priming experiments in English. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 11(2), 245–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Stanners, R. F., Neiser, J. J., Hernon, W. P., & Hall, R. (1979). Memory representation for morphologically related words. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 18, 399–412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Taft, M. (1979). Recognition of affixed words and the word frequency effect. Memory & Cognition, 7, 263–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Taft, M. (2004). Morphological decomposition and the reverse base frequency effect. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 57A(4), 745–765.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Taft, M., & Forster, K. (1975). Lexical storage and retrieval of prefixed words. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 14, 638–647.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ullman, M. T. (2012). The declarative/procedural model. In P. Robinson (Ed.), Routledge encyclopedia of second language acquisition (pp. 160–164). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Second Language Acquisition and Teaching ProgramUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA

Personalised recommendations