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Behavior Research Methods

, Volume 51, Issue 5, pp 2238–2247 | Cite as

Norms of conceptual familiarity for 3,596 French nouns and their contribution in lexical decision

  • Georges Chedid
  • Maximilliano A. Wilson
  • Christophe Bedetti
  • Amandine E. Rey
  • Guillaume T. Vallet
  • Simona Maria BrambatiEmail author
Article

Abstract

In the last decade, research has shown that word processing is influenced by the lexical and semantic features of words. However, norms for a crucial semantic variable—that is, conceptual familiarity—have not been available for a sizeable French database. We thus developed French Canadian conceptual familiarity norms for 3,596 nouns. This enriches Desrochers and Thompson’s (2009) database, in which subjective frequency and imageability values are already available for the same words. We collected online data from 313 Canadian French speakers. The full database of conceptual familiarity ratings is freely available at http://lingualab.ca/fr/projets/normes-de-familiarite-conceptuelle. We then demonstrated the utility of these new conceptual familiarity norms by assessing their contribution to lexical decision times. We conducted a stepwise regression model with conceptual familiarity in the last step. This allowed us to assess the independent contribution of conceptual familiarity beyond the contributions of other well-known psycholinguistic variables, such as frequency, imageability, and age of acquisition. The results showed that conceptual familiarity facilitated lexical decision latencies. In sum, these ratings will help researchers select French stimuli for experiments in which conceptual familiarity must be taken into account.

Keywords

Conceptual familiarity Norms Regression Lexical decision 

A great deal of research in psycholinguistics has focused on the impact of stimulus characteristics on language performance. These studies have made it possible to critically advance our knowledge of the cognitive mechanisms involved in different language functions (Huth, de Heer, Griffiths, Theunissen, & Gallant, 2016). To be conducted successfully, such studies require comprehensive culture- and language-specific psycholinguistic databases, including norms of the characteristics of the stimuli commonly employed in language tasks, such as words or pictures. These databases are of great value for conducting a wide variety of cognitive experiments. The present study provides French Canadian norms of conceptual familiarity for 3,600 nouns. This will enrich Desrochers and Thompson’s (2009) database, in which subjective frequency and imageability are already available for the same words.

It is widely accepted that word-form (e.g., word length), lexical (e.g., objective word frequency) and semantic variables (e.g., imageability, age of acquisition or AoA) influence language processing of written stimuli, as observed using both lexical decision and word naming tasks (Alario & Ferrand, 1999; Baluch & Besner, 2001; Cortese & Schock, 2013; Evans, Lambon Ralph, & Woollams, 2017; Ferrand et al., 2008; Strain & Herdman, 1999; Strain, Patterson, & Seidenberg, 1995; Zevin & Balota, 2000). Some of these variables are mostly based on objective measures (i.e., the number of letters or syllables, the first letter or phoneme of a stimulus, objective word frequencies based on film subtitles or written corpora), and they are already available in French (see, e.g., the database Lexique, www.lexique.org; New, Pallier, Brysbaert, & Ferrand, 2004).

Recently, French Canadian norms for two variables, imageability and subjective frequency, have become available for a large dataset of French words through a subjective rating study (Desrochers & Thompson, 2009). Word imageability refers to how easily a word can elicit a mental representation of the word’s referent (Toglia & Battig, 1978). Subjective frequency refers to the subjective assessment of how often a word is encountered in everyday life (Desrochers, Liceras, Fernandez-Fuertes, & Thompson, 2010; Ferrand et al., 2008; Soares, Costa, Machado, Comesaña, & Oliveira, 2017). French Canadian norms for these two variables have been assessed by means of a 7-point Likert scale in which the closer the values are to 7 means higher imageability or subjective frequency and vice versa (Desrochers & Thompson, 2009). Various studies have reported that both variables modulate reaction times in different tasks employing word stimuli, such as lexical decision, word naming, and semantic categorization (Garber & Pisoni, 1991; Pisoni & Garber, 1990). More specifically, high levels of imageability and of subjective frequency facilitate word processing (Gaygen & Luce, 1998; Strain & Herdman, 1999; Strain et al., 1995; Wilson, Cuetos, Davies, & Burani, 2013).

In addition to imageability, more recent evidence has pointed toward the role of another semantic variable—that is, conceptual familiarity—in word processing. Conceptual familiarity refers to the degree to which participants feel they are familiar with the concept expressed by a word or a picture (Moreno-Martínez, Montoro, & Rodríguez-Rojo, 2014; Schröder, Gemballa, Ruppin, & Wartenburger, 2012). It has been reported that conceptual familiarity has a facilitatory effect on word reading (Yamazaki, Ellis, Morrison, & Lambon Ralph, 1997), word comprehension and word memorization tasks (Funnell & Davies, 1996; Lambon Ralph, Graham, Ellis, & Hodges, 1998; Woollams, Taylor, Karayanidis, & Henson, 2008), and picture-naming latencies (Ellis & Morrison, 1998; Feyereisen, Van der Borght, & Seron, 1988; Snodgrass & Vanderwart, 1980). In addition, a previous study has revealed the independent contribution of conceptual familiarity to naming speed, beyond the contribution of other critical psycholinguistic variables, such as age of acquisition, name agreement, word frequency and imageability (Ellis & Morrison, 1998). Conceptual familiarity is highly correlated with, AoA (e.g., Juhasz, 2005), another semantic variable referring to the age at which a word was learned (e.g., Gilhooly & Logie, 1980; Kuperman, Stadthagen-Gonzalez, & Brysbaert, 2012). AoA has a facilitatory effect on word processing, with words learned early in life being processed faster and with fewer errors than words learned later in life (Ellis & Morrison, 1998; Juhasz, 2005; Wilson et al., 2013; Wilson, Ellis, & Burani, 2012). However, the specific contribution of conceptual familiarity on word processing beyond that of AoA has yet to be reported.

Several databases exist with norms for conceptual familiarity based on pictures in different languages such as German (Schröder et al., 2012), Spanish (Moreno-Martinez et al., 2014), Italian (Della Rosa, Catricala, Vigliocco, & Cappa, 2010), Portuguese (Soares, Pureza, & Comesaña, 2018), Russian (Tsaparina, Bonin, & Méot, 2011), Turkish (Raman, Raman, & Mertan, 2014), Tunisian Arabic (Boukadi, Zouaidi, & Wilson, 2016), Icelandic (Pind, Jónsdóttir, Gissurardóttir, & Jónsson, 2000), and French (Alario & Ferrand, 1999; Bonin, Peereman, Malardier, Méot, & Chalard, 2003). In French, the language of the present study, conceptual familiarity norms are available for a set of 299 black-and-white pictures (Bonin et al., 2003). The procedure used to collect data for conceptual familiarity followed closely the study of Alario and Ferrand (1999) who provided normative data for 400 pictures. To rate conceptual familiarity, participants were asked to evaluate the familiarity of the concept depicted by each picture according to how usual or unusual the object was in their realm of experience, and not to the way it was represented. Participants were carefully informed on the exact meaning of familiarity measured by defining it by “the degree to which they come in contact with or think about the concept.” These instructions are consistent with those employed in previous studies of conceptual familiarity, such as Ellis and Morrison (1998) and Pind, Jónsdóttir, Gissurardóttir, and Jónsson (2000). The databases available in French for conceptual familiarity include a limited number of concepts, partly because the databases are based exclusively on picture stimuli. Here we developed a sizeable database based on more than 3,000 words (Desrochers & Thompson, 2009), which allowed us to evaluate a greater number of concepts.

Language-specific normative studies are important because, as noted by Sanfeliu and Fernandez (1996), responses to the same stimuli can vary significantly with respect to certain standards, not only in different languages (Sanfeliu & Fernandez, 1996) but also in different cultures (e.g., French in Canada and in France; Sirois, Kremin, & Cohen, 2006). For this reason, it has been suggested that normative data should be collected for each culture separately (Bonin et al., 2003).

Therefore, the present study has two main objectives. The first objective (Study 1) is to provide French Canadian norms for conceptual familiarity for a sizeable database of 3,600 words taken from Desrochers and Thompson (2009). The second objective (Study 2) is to demonstrate the contribution of conceptual familiarity to word processing, and more specifically to lexical decision reaction times, above and beyond that of other known psycholinguistic variables.

Study 1

The aim of this study was to establish French Canadian norms for conceptual familiarity for 3,600 nouns from various semantic categories taken from Desrochers and Thompson’s (2009) database.

Method

Participants

Three hundred and thirteen participants were involved in the rating task (234 females and 79 males; mean age: 24.2 years, SD: 4.6 years; age range: 18–35 years; mean education: 15.9 years, SD: 2.7). Participants were recruited from the École des hautes études commerciales de Montréal (HEC) panel, a bank of participants (mainly students from the University of Montreal) who had previously agreed to be contacted to participate in research studies. The inclusion criteria were as follows: (1) being aged between 18 and 35 years, (2) being native speakers of French Canadian and having French as their mother tongue, (3) having normal or corrected-to-normal vision, and (4) having no previous history of reading and/or mental problems. Participants received a CAN$10 gift card as compensation after completing each session.

The study was reviewed and approved by the local ethics committee (Comité d’éthique de la recherche vieillissement-neuroimagerie CER IUGM 15-16-33). This committee follows the guidelines of the Tri-Council Policy Statement of Canada, the civil code of Quebec, the Declaration of Helsinki, and the Nuremberg Code.

Stimuli

We selected the 3,600 French nouns from Desrochers and Thompson’s (2009) database. Following similar procedures used with sizeable databases (Balota et al., 2007; Ferrand et al., 2010), we randomly divided the stimuli into 24 sessions of 150 items each. In each session, five randomly selected words appeared twice in a semirandom order to calculate test–retest reliability of each participant’s ratings. Thus, a total of 155 words (including the five repeated words) were presented in each session.

Procedure

The timing, sequencing, presentation of stimuli, response recording, and response latencies were controlled by a web application created by Beau and Rey (2015) and previously used in Rey, Riou, Vallet, and Versace (2017). Participants completed the rating study by means of an online platform. The Web method for collecting normative data has been proved to be as valid as the paper-and-pencil method (Soares, Comesaña, Pinheiro, Simões, & Frade, 2012) and has previously been used in several studies (Lahl, Goritz, Pietrowsky, & Rosenberg, 2009; Rey et al., 2017). Once participants reached the online webpage of the study, they were required to fill out an identification page with personal information (age, gender, highest educational level, years of education, and other spoken languages), as well as a screening questionnaire in order to ensure that all the inclusion criteria were met. Then, participants read and approved the consent form to participate in the study. Personal and screening data were saved into a file that was accessible only to the principal investigators (S.M.B. and G.C.). Eligible participants received, via e-mail, a link that allowed them to access the session in which they had to rate the familiarity of 155 words. Each participant could complete a single session or continue with more sessions by obtaining different codes. Fifty-nine participants completed more than a single rating session (maximum rating sessions per participant = 24). Participants were not allowed to complete the same session more than once. The ratings were automatically saved by the server in a secure database (PostgreSQL). The principal investigators could query the database and extract data in an Excel file for further analysis. No personal data were saved in the anonymized ratings file.

The rating session began with an instructions page. It contained a definition of the variable to be rated, instructions for the rating procedure and examples. The instructions were the same used in a previous article rating conceptual familiarity for pictures in a group of French participants (Bonin et al., 2003). The words to be rated appeared on the screen one at a time, centered in the upper part of the screen. The words were presented in lowercase, 16-point Times New Roman font. For each word, participants had to rate its conceptual familiarity. An explanation was given on how to evaluate the familiarity of the concept according to how usual or unusual the object was in their realm of experience (Bonin et al., 2003). For instance, the word DOG was presented in the upper part of the screen, together with the following sentence that appeared below the word to be rated: “To what extent do you feel familiar with the concept of DOG?” Underneath this sentence, a continuous horizontal line appeared for the ratings. As in other studies, we used an uncalibrated bar on which participants were asked to move the cursor, in order to optimize the variability of the ratings, since answers were not restricted to a certain number of response options, but very fine gradations can instead be measured (Gerich, 2007; Reips & Funke, 2008). The left side of the line corresponded to very low familiarity, and the right side to very high familiarity. The cursor always appeared in the center of the line, and the participant had to move it to the position that represented his or her rating on the continuum, from left to right. If the participant felt familiar with the concept “dog,” he/she would move the cursor toward the right side of the line, but if it was unfamiliar, he/she would move the cursor toward the left side of the line. After rating the conceptual familiarity of the word, participants clicked on the “Next” button to rate a new word. Word order presentation was randomized within each session.

The position on the bar selected by the participants was automatically coded as a number on a scale from 0 (extreme left) to 100 (extreme right) indicating conceptual familiarity. In addition, the rating latencies were recorded to control for the quality of the ratings (e.g., that a participant did not rate some words too quickly or too slowly).

Completing a session meant giving estimations for a list of 155 words. Participants were instructed to complete the session in a calm place without any interruption for the total duration of the session, which did not exceed 90 min. If a participant did not finish his/her ratings within this time limit, the session closed automatically and his/her ratings were not included in further analysis.

Data screening

After initial inspection of the collected data, the data of six participants were excluded because they produced the same answer for all items (e.g., 100). Accordingly, their response time to all concepts was less than 0.3 s, which is congruent with a lack of commitment to the task.

We further inspected the data for outliers in each session. Scores falling outside ± 3.5 standard deviations from the mean were classified as outliers. The data of five participants were then eliminated according to this criterion. Regarding rating latencies, visual inspection of the reaction time distribution suggested that responses with latencies less than 300 ms were derived from a distinct distribution (Desrochers & Thompson, 2009). As a result, such responses were excluded and not analyzed. A total of 313 participants remained. Each session was evaluated by a mean of 23 participants (minimum raters per session = 16; maximum raters per session = 30).

Results

Desrochers and Thomson’s (2009) original database comprises 3,600 nouns. We noticed that the word vague (in English, the noun “wave” or the adjective “vague”) was repeated. According to the information available in the French online database Lexique.org, vague as a noun has only one entry. We thus eliminated the second entry. Due to technical difficulties with the online presentation mechanism, three additional words were omitted from the rating sessions (avant, chose, and lit, corresponding to the English words “before,” “thing,” and “bed,” respectively). We therefore provide norms for a database of 3,596 French nouns. The database is freely available for download at the following website: http://lingualab.ca/fr/projets/normes-de-familiarite-conceptuelle.

Reliability of conceptual familiarity

Intrastudy reliability

To assess the reliability of the ratings in the study, we performed two main analyses consistent with the previous published norm studies by Bonin and by Desrochers and colleagues (Bonin et al., 2003; Desrochers et al., 2010). First, for within-words stimulus reliability, we computed split-half correlations of the mean rating values for all the words across the 24 sessions. Word ratings for individual raters were divided into two groups—even and odd—according to the order in which they were provided. We calculated the mean rating for each word in each group (even and odd). Then, we correlated the means of the two groups. The corrected Pearson correlations were r(502) = .848, p < .01. We also confirmed the high degree of internal consistency between raters by examining Cronbach’s alpha, which reached .913.

Second, we measured the consistency of the responses between participants. To that end, we compared the 120 words (the five words repeated within each of the 24 sessions, for a total of 120 words) that received double estimations. We computed Pearson’s correlations between the two responses given for the 120 repeated words across all sessions, to make sure that participants were reliably giving approximately the same estimation for the same word when it appeared randomly twice in a session. The results showed a high correlation between the first and second ratings of the same words, r(240) = .769, p < .01. The repeated answers had a high level of internal consistency, as determined also by a Cronbach’s alpha of .870.

Interstudy reliability

We examined interstudy reliability by testing the association between the ratings of conceptual familiarity based on word stimuli obtained in our study and those previously obtained in French (Alario & Ferrand, 1999; Bonin et al., 2003). Toward this aim, we ran cross-study correlations on stimuli common to our database and the databases used in the studies by Alario and Ferrand and by Bonin et al. The analysis showed significant and positive correlations for the 266 stimuli common to our database and that of Alario and Ferrand, r(266) = .402, p < .01, and for the 166 stimuli common to our database and that of Bonin and colleagues, r(166) = .262, p < .01.

Summary of the results

We collected conceptual familiarity norms for 3,596 nouns from various semantic categories taken from Desrochers and Thompson’s (2009) database. We obtained information on the intrastudy and interstudy reliability of our new ratings. For the intrastudy reliability, we used two indicators: the correlation between the average ratings from the two halves of the data (even vs. odd items) and the correlation between the mean first and second ratings of the 120 words repeated across the 24 sessions. Both indicators revealed good intrastudy reliability. We also studied the interstudy reliability between our conceptual familiarity ratings, based on words, and the ratings based on pictures obtained from previous studies in French. The positive and significant correlation with other French normative databases confirmed the interstudy reliability of our ratings.

Study 2

The aim of this study was to assess the independent contribution of our newly developed conceptual familiarity ratings to lexical decision reaction times (RTs) beyond those of other well-known psycholinguistic variables that have been previously shown to have a significant impact on lexical decision RTs. To that end, we conducted a stepwise regression model in which we entered lexical decision RTs as the dependent variable. In Step 1 we introduced imageability, subjective and objective frequency, word length, orthographic similarity, and AoA into the model (Andrews, 1989; Balota & Chumbley, 1984; Barton, Hanif, Eklinder Bjornstrom, & Hills, 2014; Cortese & Schock, 2013; Forster & Chambers, 1973). We entered conceptual familiarity in Step 2 as our variable of interest.

Method

Materials

On the basis of previous studies (Andrews, 1989; Balota & Chumbley, 1984; Barton et al., 2014; Forster & Chambers, 1973), we extracted values for the following psycholinguistic variables for the 3,596 nouns in Study 1 from the French online database Lexique (New et al., 2004; www.lexique.org): word length in number of letters (N-letters; e.g., concept = 7); word length in number of syllables (N-syllables; e.g., concept = 2); objective lexical frequency calculated from books (FreqBooks) (e.g., concept = 7.63 occurrences per million); and two measures of orthographic similarity: orthographic neighborhood size (N-size; i.e., the number of words that can be generated by switching one letter, e.g., laughter → daughter) and orthographic Levenshtein distance 20 (OLD20; i.e., the minimum number of insertions, deletions, and substitutions required to turn one word into its 20 nearest neighbors) (Yarkoni, Balota, & Yap, 2008).

We also obtained values for subjective frequency, taken from Desrochers and Thompson (2009), and two semantic variables: imageability (Desrochers & Thompson, 2009) and AoA (Ferrand et al., 2008).

We subsequently extracted the mean lexical decision RTs for each word from the French Lexicon Project (Ferrand et al., 2010). AoA was available only for a small subset of words in our database (420 nouns), whereas the other variables were available for 3,124 words. To study the contribution of conceptual familiarity with a sizeable set of stimuli and even in the presence of other semantic variables , such as AoA, we conducted two separate stepwise regression models. The first model was run on 3,124 words and did not include AoA in Step 1 (Study 2.a). The second model was run on the 420 words rated for AoA and included that variable in Step 1 (Study 2.b).

Study 2.a

Data analysis

We inspected the data for multicollinearity. Toward this aim, we ran a regression model, entering lexical decision RTs as the dependent variable and N-letters, N-syllables, N-size, OLD20, FreqBooks, subjective frequency, imageability, and conceptual familiarity as independent variables. On the basis of this analysis, we calculated the tolerance and variance inflation factor (VIF). The results showed VIF < 4 and tolerance > .2, indicating an absence of multicollinearity among our variables (Menard, 1995). To further investigate collinearity, we explored the correlation matrix to detect pairs of variables that showed coefficients greater than .75 (Cohen, Cohen, West, & Aiken, 2003). Analysis showed correlation coefficients greater than .75 between OLD20 and N-letters, r(3124) = .785, p < .01, and between N-letters and N-syllables, r(3124) = .796, p < .01. On the basis of these results from the correlation matrix, and the fact that a measure of word length was already included in the model (i.e., N-syllables), we decided to exclude N-letters from the stepwise regression analysis model. We then retested multicollinearity without N-letters, obtaining VIF < 3 and tolerance > .2. Table 1 shows descriptive statistics and tolerance/VIF values for all variables included in the stepwise regression model. Table 2 shows the correlations between all the variables used as predictors (and the dependent variable RTs) in the lexical decision task.
Table 1

Summary statistics for all the variables used in the lexical decision study

 

Mean

Standard Deviation

Minimum

Maximum

Tolerance

VIF

RTs

685.63

73.39

515.54

1,286.50

  

N-syllables

2.31

0.909

1.00

6.00

.41

2.42

OLD20

2.16

0.60

1.00

4.85

.35

2.79

FreqBooks

27.26

114.25

0.07

4,745.47

.87

1.14

N-size

2.02

3.19

0.00

24

.41

1.83

Imageability

4.21

1.49

1.31

7.00

.71

1.39

Subjective frequency

3.70

1.05

6.45

3.70

.47

2.08

Conceptual familiarity

83.59

13.44

11.05

98.58

.43

2.28

RTs, lexical decision latencies; N-syllables, number of syllables in a word; OLD20, orthographic Levenshtein distance; FreqBooks, frequency in books; N-size, orthographic neighborhood size.

Table 2

Correlations between all the variables used as predictors (and the dependent variable RTs) in the lexical decision task in the analysis from Study 2.a

 

RTs

N-Syllables

OLD20

FreqBooks

N-Size

Imageability

Subjective Frequency

Conceptual Familiarity

RTs

1

       

N-syllables

.23**

1

      

OLD20

.30**

.72**

1

     

FreqBooks

– .17**

– .15**

– .15**

1

    

N-size

– .18**

– .51**

– .66**

.22**

1

   

Imageability

– .20**

– .31**

– .19**

.02

.15**

1

  

Subjective frequency

– .57**

.01

– .07**

.27**

.09**

.20**

1

 

Conceptual familiarity

– .51**

.08**

.00

.11**

.01

.38**

.69**

1

RTs, lexical decision latencies; N-syllables, number of syllables in a word; OLD20, orthographic Levenshtein distance; FreqBooks, frequency in books; N-size, orthographic neighborhood size. **Correlations are significant at the .01 level (two-tailed).

Following similar previous studies (Della Rosa et al., 2010; Lynott & Connell, 2013), we grouped the predictors and entered them in a regression model with two steps. Step 1 included N-syllables, FreqBooks, N-size, OLD20, subjective frequency, and imageability. Step 2 included only the newly calculated variable—that is, conceptual familiarity. Lexical decision RTs were the dependent variable.

Results

Table 3 shows the results of the regression model with conceptual familiarity in the final step. After controlling for the effects of the other psycholinguistic variables (Step 1), we observed a significant facilitatory effect of conceptual familiarity on lexical decision RTs (β = – .285, p < .001).
Table 3

Standardized βs, R2s, and ΔR2s for the regression analyses

Step

 

Coefficient

Step 1

N-syllables

.09***

 

OLD20

.23***

 

FreqBooks

.01

 

N-size

.08***

 

Imageability

– .03*

 

Subjective frequency

– .56***

 

R 2

.40

 

ΔR2

.40***

Step 2

Conceptual familiarity

– .29***

 

R 2

.44

 

ΔR2

.04***

N-Syllables, number of syllables in a word; OLD20, orthographic Levenshtein distance; FreqBooks, frequency in books; N-size, orthographic neighborhood size. The “Coefficient” column refers to the regression model with conceptual familiarity entered in the last step of the model. ΔR2 is the incremental increase in the model R2 that results from the addition of a predictor or set of predictors in a new step of the model. *p < .05. ***p < .001.

Study 2.b

Data analysis

This analysis included only the 420 words for which AoA ratings were available (Ferrand et al., 2008). The N-syllables variable was not entered in Step 1 because all 420 words were monosyllabic. To test the data for multicollinearity, we ran a regression model entering lexical decision RTs as the dependent variable and N-letters, N-size, OLD20, FreqBooks, subjective frequency, imageability, AoA, and conceptual familiarity as independent variables. The results showed a VIF > 5 (VIF = 5.4) and tolerance < .2 (tolerance = .18) for N-size (Menard, 1995). This variable showed a correlation of > .75 with OLD20 values. On the basis of these results, and the fact that another variable assessing neighborhood (OLD20) was included in Step 1, N-size was excluded from the regression model. The test of collinearity after the exclusion of N-size yielded VIF < 3 and tolerance > .3. The correlation coefficients between all variables were < .75 (Cohen et al., 2003).

Table 4 shows the correlations between all variables included as predictors and the dependent variable RTs in the lexical decision task.
Table 4

Correlations between all the variables used as predictors (and the dependent variable RTs) in the lexical decision task in the analysis in Study 2.b

 

RTs

Subjective Frequency

Imageability

Conceptual Familiarity

FreqBooks

AoA

OLD20

N-Letters

RTs

1

       

Subjective frequency

– .63**

1

      

Imageability

– .25**

.26**

1

     

Conceptual familiarity

– .55**

.69**

.49**

1

    

FreqBooks

– .20**

.33**

– .07

.15**

1

   

AoA

.50**

– .62**

– .60**

– .58**

– .22**

1

  

OLD20

.09

– .15**

.02

– .07

– .16**

.18**

1

 

N-letters

.19**

– .16**

– .02

– .14**

– .18**

.19**

.37**

1

RTs, lexical decision latencies; N-letters, word length; OLD20, orthographic Levenshtein distance; FreqBooks, word frequency in books. **Correlations are significant at the .01 level (two-tailed).

A stepwise regression analysis was conducted with lexical decision RTs as the dependent variable. Step 1 included N-letters, OLD20, FreqBooks, subjective frequency, imageability, and AoA. Step 2 included conceptual familiarity as the only independent variable.

Results

Table 5 shows the results of the stepwise regression analysis. We observed a significant facilitatory effect of conceptual familiarity on lexical decision RTs (β = – .187, p < .005).
Table 5

Standardized βs, R2s, and ΔR2s for the regression analyses

Step

 

Coefficient

Step 1

Subjective frequency

– .53***

 

Imageability

.01

 

FreqBooks

.02

 

AoA

.16**

 

OLD20

– .04

 

N-letters

.10*

 

R 2

.43

 

ΔR2

.43***

Step 2

Conceptual familiarity

– .19**

 

R 2

.44

 

ΔR2

.01**

N-letters, word length; OLD20, orthographic Levenshtein distance; FreqBooks, word frequency in books. The “Coefficient” column refers to the regression model with conceptual familiarity entered in the last step of the model. ΔR2 is the incremental increase in the model R2 that results from the addition of a predictor or set of predictors in a new step of the model. *p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.

General discussion

The present study had two aims: (a) to provide French Canadian norms for conceptual familiarity for a large database of 3,596 French nouns, and (b) to determine the contribution of this newly developed variable to lexical decision latencies. To achieve the first goal, we used the same 3,600 nouns for which Desrochers and Thompson (2009) had previously provided French Canadian norms of subjective frequency and imageability. Each noun was assessed online by a mean of 23 native Canadian French speakers. We subsequently studied the reliability of the new ratings, both intrastudy (between the participants of the study) and interstudy (between our norms and other French published conceptual familiarity ratings based on pictorial stimuli of Alario & Ferrand, 1999, and Bonin et al., 2003). Both interstudy and intrastudy analyses showed a high reliability and confirmed the validity of our new database. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study that provides conceptual familiarity norms for a large database of French Canadian words. In fact, only two previous studies have provided ratings for conceptual familiarity in French (Alario & Ferrand, 1999; Bonin et al., 2003). However, those previous studies were based on smaller databases of pictorial stimuli. Although our interstudy reliability analysis revealed that our norms significantly correlated with the norms of these previous studies, the strength of the relationship was moderate. This result can be partly attributed to the different nature of the stimuli employed in these studies (pictorial stimuli in Alario & Ferrand, 1999, and Bonin et al., 2003, and written words in the present study). Further studies comparing conceptual familiarity ratings based on pictorial and word stimuli would be useful to confirm this hypothesis.

To illustrate the crucial role of our ratings on word processing and the potential of this database in language research, we studied the contribution of conceptual familiarity to lexical decision latencies. Lexical decision is the most frequently used task in the visual word recognition literature to examine semantic effects (Balota & Chumbley, 1984; Cortese & Schock, 2013; Evans et al., 2017). The results of our regression model showed that conceptual familiarity significantly contributed to lexical decision latencies, over and beyond the contribution of other psycholinguistic and semantic variables that have previously shown a facilitatory effect on lexical decision latencies. These variables included measures of word length, objective frequency, lexical neighborhood, and ratings of imageability, subjective frequency and age of acquisition (Andrews, 1989; Balota & Chumbley, 1984; Barton et al., 2014; Desrochers & Thompson, 2009; Forster & Chambers, 1973). More specifically, our analyses revealed that conceptual familiarity had a facilitatory effect on latencies since it was associated with reduced RTs during lexical decision.

Our results are in agreement with previous studies showing that conceptual familiarity is known to have a facilitatory effect on the speed and accuracy of word processing in both healthy (Izura, Hernández-Muñoz, & Ellis, 2005; Schröder et al., 2012) and brain-damaged participants (Bowles, Duke, Rosenbaum, McRae, & Kohler, 2016). Higher conceptual familiarity facilitates the speed with which a stimulus is responded to and facilitates correct judgments (Connine, Mullennix, Shernoff, & Yelen, 1990). Connine and colleagues found that, when participants performed a lexical decision task, accuracy increased with familiarity. Moreover, lexical decision reaction times for highly familiar concepts were faster than those for low familiar ones. Another piece of evidence on the influence of conceptual familiarity comes from a Japanese study that showed that it had a facilitatory effect, increasing the speed at which single kanji characters can be read (Yamazaki et al., 1997). In a study of category fluency for 500 Spanish words, Izura et al. found that lexical availability, or the ease with which a word can be accessed and produced as a member of a given category in Spanish, is well predicted by conceptual familiarity and other variables such as typicality, age of acquisition and word frequency. Moreover, a facilitatory effect of conceptual familiarity on lexical decision in French-speaking participants has also been reported when the norms of conceptual familiarity were based on picture stimuli and not on word stimuli, as in our study (Alario & Ferrand, 1999; Bonin et al., 2003). Accordingly, conceptual familiarity had a facilitatory effect not only on the processing of words but also pictures. For example, an early research of Ellis and Morrison (1998) on conceptual familiarity found an independent contribution of conceptual familiarity to picture naming speed, beyond the contribution of age of acquisition, name agreement, word frequency and other variables (Ellis & Morrison, 1998). The impact of conceptual familiarity on picture naming finds further confirmation in studies on clinical patients. It has been shown that performance on picture naming tasks in patients with semantic deficits is strongly affected by conceptual familiarity (Funnell & Davies, 1996). More specifically, these patients produced a higher number of correct responses in the naming of pictures representing highly familiar concepts than with low-familiar ones. The fact that conceptual familiarity affects the processing of both words and pictures further highlights the semantic nature of this variable.

In sum, our results are consistent with the established notion of conceptual familiarity as a facilitator that might influence performance in word processing. Additionally, our study provides researchers with the largest database of French Canadian ratings of conceptual familiarity. Our ratings complement the French Canadian ratings of subjective frequency and imageability previously obtained with the same word database. We hope that this sizeable database proves to be a useful tool for researchers working in areas related to psycholinguistics, education, and language acquisition or language disorders in Canadian French-speaking populations.

Author note

S.M.B. is supported by a Fonds de recherche du Québec–Santé Chercheur Boursier Junior 2 Scholarship. The work itself was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (Grant 418630-2012 to S.M.B.) and by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Grant 430-2015-00699 to M.A.W.). G.C. is supported by a Fonds de recherche du Québec–Nature et Technologies fellowship.

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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Georges Chedid
    • 1
    • 2
  • Maximilliano A. Wilson
    • 3
  • Christophe Bedetti
    • 2
  • Amandine E. Rey
    • 4
  • Guillaume T. Vallet
    • 1
    • 2
    • 5
  • Simona Maria Brambati
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MontrealMontrealCanada
  2. 2.Centre de RechercheInstitut Universitaire de Gériatrie de MontréalMontrealCanada
  3. 3.Centre de Recherche CERVO et Département de réadaptationUniversité LavalQuébecCanada
  4. 4.Laboratoire d’Étude des Mécanismes CognitifsUniversité Lyon 2LyonFrance
  5. 5.Laboratoire de Psychologie Sociale et Cognitive, CNRSUniversité Clermont AuvergneClermont-FerrandFrance

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