Masked suffix priming and morpheme positional constraints

Davide Crepaldi, Lara Hemsworth, Colin J Davis, Kathy Rastle

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Although masked stem priming (e.g., dealer–DEAL) is one of the most established effects in visual word identification, it is less clear whether primes and targets sharing a suffix (e.g., kindness–WILDNESS) also yield facilitation. In a new take on this issue, we show that prime nonwords facilitate lexical decisions to target words ending with the same suffix (sheeter–TEACHER) compared to a condition where the critical suffix was substituted by another one (sheetal TEACHER) or by an unrelated nonmorphological ending (sheetub– TEACHER). We also show that this effect is genuinely morphological, as no priming emerged in noncomplex items with the same orthographic characteristics (sportel–BROTHEL vs. sportic–BROTHEL vs. sportur–BROTHEL). In a further experiment, we took advantage of these results to assess whether suffixes are recognized in a position-specific fashion. Masked suffix priming did not emerge when the relative order of stems and suffixes was reversed in the prime nonwords-ersheet did not yield any time saving in the identification of teacher as compared to either alsheet or obsheet. We take these results to show that –er was not identified as a morpheme in ersheet, thus indicating that suffix identification is position specific. This conclusion is in line with data on interference effects in nonword rejection and strongly constrains theoretical proposals on how complex words are identified. In particular, because these findings were reported in a masked priming paradigm, they suggest that positional constraints operate early, most likely at a prelexical level of morpho-orthographic analysis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-128
Number of pages16
JournalThe Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number1
Early online date8 May 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016

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