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Easy-to-read German put to the test: Do adults with intellectual disability or functional illiteracy benefit from compound segmentation?


Easy-to-read (ETR) German is the subject of public debate. Even though it is heavily promoted by officials, its status is controversial. Moreover, the comprehensibility of ETR German texts awaits systematic testing. The aim of the present study was to test a controversial rule concerning word segmentation. Hypotheses derived from psycholinguistic studies with skilled readers predict an interaction of segmentation and semantic transparency. A sample of individuals, some with intellectual disability and others functionally illiterate, performed a timed lexical decision task on unsegmented and segmented noun compounds that were either semantically transparent or semantically opaque. The results show an advantage of segmentation that was not modulated by semantic transparency. At the same time, a main effect of semantic transparency indicates that the meaning of the compounds was accessed. Two potential loci of the segmentation advantage are discussed: a prelexical one referring to phonological recoding and a lexical one related to access to phonological word forms. The outcome of the experiment approves the practice of segmenting noun compounds in ETR German. The study further attests the feasibility and potential fruitfulness of experimental research with target groups of ETR.

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The study reported here was conducted within the LeiSA project ( funded by the German Federal Ministry for Labor and Social Affairs to Saskia Schuppener (Grant No. 01KM141109). The authors wish to thank Daisy Lange for contributing to the preparation of materials and to data collection. The authors further wish to thank Antje Lorenz for sharing semantic transparency ratings as well as Thomas Pechmann and three anonymous reviewers for comments on earlier versions of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Sandra Pappert.

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The ethics committee of the Medical Faculty at the University of Leipzig ruled out ethical and scientific concerns for the study design (Note No. 229-14-14072014).

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See Tables 9 and 10.

Table 9 Individual participant information: socio-demographic features, reading level and reading performance in the experiment
Table 10 Details on experimental items

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Pappert, S., Bock, B.M. Easy-to-read German put to the test: Do adults with intellectual disability or functional illiteracy benefit from compound segmentation?. Read Writ (2019).

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  • Compounds
  • Easy-to-read
  • Functional illiteracy
  • Intellectual disability
  • Reading
  • Semantic transparency