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J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 2015 Feb;41(1):50-68. doi: 10.1037/a0038509. Epub 2014 Dec 15.

Can we hear morphological complexity before words are complex?

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Department of Psychology, Tufts University.


Previous research has shown that listeners can tell the difference between phonemically identical onsets of monomorphemic words (e.g., cap and captain) using acoustic cues (Davis, Marslen-Wilson, & Gaskell, 2002). This study investigates whether this finding extends to multimorphemic words, asking whether listeners can use phonetic information to distinguish unsuffixed from suffixed words before they differ phonemically (e.g., clue vs. clueless). We report 4 experiments investigating this issue using forced-choice identification and mouse-tracking tasks. We find that listeners are in fact able to distinguish mono- and multimorphemic words using only subphonemic information. Our experiments reveal that duration information alone is sufficient to make this discrimination and that listeners make use of an abstract rule that relates duration to morphological structure. The implications of these results for theories of morphological processing are discussed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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