The Role of Morphology in the Development of Lexical Processing

Nicola Dawson

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Morphology is an important source of regularity in the English writing system. Morphemes provide a link between word form (phonology and orthography) and word meaning (semantics and grammar). Skilled readers demonstrate rapid analysis of morphological structure during word recognition which enables efficient access to meaning from print. Children’s explicit awareness of morphological patterns emerges early in development, but it is not yet clear how and when they acquire morphological representations that are readily activated during reading. Data from adolescent readers are scarce, but are crucial to addressing this question. A further question relates to the processes by which morphology supports acquisition of lexical knowledge. One argument is that morphological structure helps to bind orthographic, phonological and semantic features of words in memory, resulting in high quality lexical representations. This thesis reports three experimental cross-sectional studies. The aim of the first two studies was to investigate morphological effects in visual word recognition across reading development, and the mechanisms that drive these effects. Findings from these studies revealed that children, adolescents and adults all demonstrated sensitivity to morphological structure during word recognition tasks, but rapid activation of abstract morphological representations appeared to be a late-acquired milestone in reading development, not emerging until mid-to-late adolescence. The third study investigated the role of suffixes in the development of high quality lexical representations in adolescents using a word-learning paradigm. Results indicated that semantic and syntactic properties of suffixes supported learning of mappings between semantics and phonology, but these effects did not extend to online measures of word learning. Together, these findings underline the importance of morphological knowledge for lexical processing, and provide new evidence that the representations that support rapid access to meaning from print continue to develop into late adolescence.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Ricketts, Jessie, Supervisor
  • Rastle, Kathy, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 May 2019
Publication statusUnpublished - 2019


  • morphology
  • reading
  • adolescence
  • lexical processing
  • development
  • Royal Holloway
  • Nicola Dawson

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