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Morphology and the Mental Lexicon

On the Role of Morphological Structure in Word Recognition and Lexical Organization

Chih-Hao Tsai ()

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Morphology and the Mental Lexicon

During past twenty years, there has been a considerable amount of studies concerning the role of morphological processing in word recognition and lexical organization. However, there was not too much consensus about this issue.

A Brief Review of the Literature

The research on morphological processing began with Taft and Forster's (1975, 1976) papers in which it was proposed that prefixed words are analyzed into their constituent morphemes before lexical access occurs, and polysyllabic words are accessed via their first syllable. In 1979, Taft further proposed that words related by affixation (both prefixed words and inflected words) are stored together. Taft's another 1979 paper first articulated Basic Orthographic Syllabic Structure (BOSS) which is based on both orthographic and morphological factors. At about the same time, Stanners, Neiser, Hernon, and Hall (1979) proposed that inflections do not have memory representations separate from their their base verbs, but irregular past tense words and both types of derivatives do. These studies and theories formed the earliest senario of morphological processing. Prior to 1983, there were only a few studies on this issue.

A new line of research was initiated by Caramazza, Miceli and their colleagues. The feature was that their observations were based on aphasic and dyslexic patients. Based on their observations on aphasic patients, Gainotti, Miceli, and Silveri (1983) concluded that amnesic aphasics showed a prevalent impairment in the selection of lexical opposites, whereas conduction aphasics showed a selective impairment in the production of morphological antonyms. Based on their ovesrvations on acquired dyslexic subjects, Caramazza, Miceli, Silveri, and Laudanna (1985) proposed that root morphemes are represented separately from affixes and function words. And Badeker and Caramazza (1987) proposed that the acquired dyslexic subject's morphological errors were resulted from the organization of mental lexicon, but not from morphological processing deficit. Based on observations on an aphasic patient, Miceli and Caramazza (1988) proposed that morphological processes are located in the lexicon but that inflectional and derivational processes constitute autonomous subcomponents of the lexicon. In yet another case report by Badecker and Caramazza (1991) which reported a case of acquired lexical impairment that resulted in the production of morphological and other paraphasias. They argued that these errors result from an output impairment and that the paraphrastic morphological forms are the result of compositional errors, not whole-word lexical substitutions.

Another line of research was initiated by Feldman and her colleagues. The feature was that their observations were based on experiments using orthographies other than English. Feldman, Kostic, Lukatela, and Turvey (1983) used Serbo-Croatian written in Roman & Cyrillic alphabets to examine BOSS developed by Taft. They proposed that the lexical representation of Serbo-Croatian words is phonological and not purely orthographic, therefore the BOSS was not supported. Hanson and Feldman (1989) studied the American Sign Language (ASL) and proposed that the morphological principles of lexical organization observed in ASL do not extend to the organization of English for skilled deaf readers. Bentin and Feldman's (1990) study in Hebrew concluded that morphological repetition probably facilitates the retrieval of lexical information necessary for lexical decisions. Feldman (1991) investigated evidence of morphological processing in English vs Serbo Croatian in three word recognition tasks (their conclusion was not clear from their abstract).

Cole and his colleagues studied morphological processing in French. Cole, Beauvillain, Pavard, and Sequi (1986) studied the recognition of affixed and suffixed words. Cole-P, Beauvillain, and Segui (1989) studied effects cumulative root vs surface frequency of prefix and suffix derived words on RT for lexical decision task. Grainger, Cole, and Segui (1991) examined the effects of morphological overlap between prime and target in the masked priming paradigm. They concluded that the effects observed in masked morphological priming reflect the combination of both facilitatory and inhibitory mechanisms.

Taft's BOSS hypothesis had not received much support. Surprisingly, there was only a few studies that were intended to test the BOSS hypothesis in English. Luszcz, Bungey, and Geffen's (1984) studied the BOSS effects on word recognition performances of third vs fifth vs seventh graders vs college students and concluded that the availability of a BOSS-based lexical file was apparent at all ages, although utilization of a BOSS-mediated code appeared to emerge gradually. On the contrary, Jordan (1986) argued that no evidence was obtained to suggest that BOSSes enjoy a special psychological status. Yet evidence from the same experiment suggests that words are processed via multiletter units in the lexical decision task and that these units are not position specific. Indeed, Taft himself finally gave up his original BOSS hypothesis. Instead, Taft (1992) proposed that the body of a monosyllabic word (i.e., its vowel plus terminal consonants) is an important unit of lexical processing. There were virtually no supportive evidence for his new proposal, except for his own study.

Nineteen years after Taft published the first paper on the morphological processing in word recognition, Marslen-Wilson, Tyler, Lorraine, Waksler, and Older (1994) published a paper, which investigated the lexical entry for morphological complex words in English, on Psychological Review. That is the first Psychological Review paper on this issue, which can be thought to be the most important progress on this issue.

Characteristics of the Research Activity

1. The researchers were interested in affixes most. Inflectional and derivational structure also received considerable attention. Compounding structure was rarely investigated. Such a distribution reflects the fact that the major word-formation devices are affixation, inflection, and derivation in English and other Indo-European Languages.

2. Taft and Forster (1975, 1976) and Taft's two 1979 papers did much to open this field. Taft continues to have substantial contributions to this field. However, he seemed to have given up his original BOSS theory, and his new theory has not attracted much attention yet. Caramazza, Miceli and their colleagues' studies on aphasic and dyslexic patients provided some solid evidence for the representation of morphologically complex words in mental lexicon. Feldman and her colleagues, and Cole and his colleagues did many studies on the morphological processing in different languages, including ASL, French, Germany, Hebrew, and Serbo-Croatian. There were more inconsistencies than consensus among these studies. Recently, Marslen-Wilson, Tyler, and their colleagues' studies redefined this field and has significant contribution to this filed.

3. The theoretical aspect of this field was not very clear. Some theories (e.g., Cole et al., Feldman et al., and Taft's BOSS or BOB) were modality-specific. That is, they addressed on the perceptual parsing process and the representation and organization of access representation of morphological complex words. Some (e.g., Caramazza, Miceli and their colleagues; Marslen-Wilson et al., 1994) addressed on the representation and organization of lexical entry of morphological complex words.



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