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On the interplay between family and series effects in morphological masked priming

Abstract

The aim of our research is to further investigate the role of suffixes in morphological processing and to verify whether morphological series (i.e., paradigms of complex words sharing the same suffix) play a role in lexical representation and processing, as suggested by paradigm-based approaches (Bybee 1988, 1995; Booij 2010). The premise of our study is that, while the relationship between words belonging to the same morphological family has been extensively confirmed by psycholinguistic research, experimental studies on the relationship between words belonging to the same morphological series have been scarce so far and produced inconsistent results. On such premises, we carried a series of masked priming experiments on Italian, which consider truly suffixed words with respect to words with non-morphological endings (it. inquina-mento ‘pollution’–cemento ‘cement’) and we focused on series which display different degrees of internal consistency. Crucially, in order to facilitate the emergence of the series effect, we used a semantic categorization task associated with the masked priming technique, instead of the traditional lexical decision (LDT). Our results show that when the masked priming effects are not inhibited by formal factors (as happens with LDT), the facilitation induced by the words organization in series emerges more easily, although it is affected by series consistency in different ways. Firstly, while the series effect approaches significance for consistent series, it fails to emerge for non-consistent ones (Exp. 1). Secondly, the base effect is more robust and clear-cut in consistent than in non-consistent series. Thirdly, in more consistent series the interference of formal/orthographic factors is absent or reduced, while it significantly affects processing in less consistent series (Exp. 2). All in all, our results demonstrate that the paradigmatic effects are inherently graded as they crucially depend on series internal consistency and that they crucially interact with family effects during word access.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The term ‘series’ has been introduced by Hathout (2009) and it will be used here accordingly.

  2. 2.

    An ‘extreme’ consequence of this view of the processing of morphologically complex words is represented by the morpho-orthographic hypothesis and by the so-called ‘corner effect’ (Rastle et al. 2004; Longtin and Meunier 2005 and Rastle and Davis 2008), according to which all forms which present a ‘superficial’ complex structure (e.g. corn-er) would be decomposed in early stages of visual processing, despite the fact that they are not in fact morphologically complex. For a discussion, see Giraudo and Dal Maso (2016) and Voga and Giraudo (2017).

  3. 3.

    The success of such a syntagmatic approach in psycholinguistic research (an of the decomposition hypothesis to which it is connected) is also due to fact that the masked priming technique is acknowledged to be particularly sensitive to the formal characteristics of the word to be recognized, especially when used in association with lexical decision tasks, as it is almost always the case.

  4. 4.

    The adoption of a paradigmatic perspective in this work is made clear by using a specific graphic notation: a sequence of underscores before the suffix (e.g. ___tore) will be used to indicate the morphological schema, while the traditional hyphen (e.g. -tore) will indicate the suffix as a morphological component in a syntagmatic perspective.

  5. 5.

    In Italian, the ___tore series is highly consistent as 78,38% of the items ending with that string of letters is genuinely morphologically complex (86,15% if we consider the token frequency), whereas the ___etto series is much less consistent, as only 39,47% of the items is genuinely suffixed (16,78% if we consider the token frequency); moreover, the most frequent words are not truly suffixed (e.g., progetto ‘project’, effetto ‘effect’, oggetto ‘object’, letto ‘bed’, aspetto ‘aspect’, etc.).

  6. 6.

    This choice is also compatible with the observation that speakers’ perception of morphological complexity has revealed to be substantially non-discrete bur rather intrinsically graded, as observed by Hay and Baayen: “People’s behavior in experimental tasks is anything but categorial. Individuals can rate affixed forms consistently on a scale from unaffixed to affixed, and can assess which member of a pair of complex words is more complex (e.g. settlement is reported as ‘more affixed’ than government). This suggests that morphological complexity is not a binary category” (Hay and Baayen 2005:343).

  7. 7.

    The ratio between suffixed and pseudo-suffixed words is calculated only with respect to the category of nouns, which means that, for instance, in the -ello series we considered the proportion between suffixed nouns as cestello ‘small basket’ and pseudo-suffixed nouns as ruscello ‘stream, brook’, but not adjectives as bello ‘beautiful’ or pronouns, as quello ‘that one’, which however display high frequencies. This data could potentially be interesting, but will not be developed here because of lack of space and will be the object of further research.

  8. 8.

    The stress pattern of prime words was clearly constrained in the base, suffixed and pseudosuffixed conditions. In the unrelated condition, it has not been controlled, which represents a potential flaw in the experimental design, as suggested by one of the reviewers. Although in Giraudo and Dal Maso (2016) the stress pattern of primes (which participated in the definition of perceptual salience) did not seem to affect priming effects, such a point would certainly deserve a closer inspection in future research.

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Acknowledgements

Authors’ contributions: S.D.M. conceived and designed the study with the support of H.G. for methodological aspects. S.D.M. created the materials, recruited the participants, conducted the experimental sessions, and wrote the first draft of the paper. H.G. ran the statistical analysis, contributed to results interpretation, and revised the paper critically for important intellectual content.

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Correspondence to Serena Dal Maso.

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Dal Maso, S., Giraudo, H. On the interplay between family and series effects in morphological masked priming. Morphology 29, 293–315 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11525-019-09341-6

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Keywords

  • Morphological masked priming
  • Series and family effects
  • Semantic categorization
  • Word processing
  • Lexical access
  • Visual recognition
  • Mental lexicon