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Mem Cognit. 1995 Jan;23(1):83-94.

Is nonword repetition a test of phonological memory or long-term knowledge? It all depends on the nonwords.

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Department of Psychology, University of Bristol, England.


The extent to which children's performance on tests of nonword repetition is constrained by phonological working memory and long-term lexical knowledge was investigated in a longitudinal study of 70 children tested at 4 and 5 years of age. At each time of testing, measures of nonword repetition, memory span, and vocabulary knowledge were obtained. Reading ability was also assessed at 5 years. At both ages, repetition accuracy was greater for nonwords of high- rather than low-rated wordlikeness, and memory-span measures were more closely related to repetition accuracy for the low-wordlike than for the high-wordlike stimuli. It is argued that these findings indicate that nonword repetition for unwordlike stimuli is largely dependent on phonological memory, whereas repetition for wordlike items is also mediated by long-term lexical knowledge and is therefore less sensitive to phonological memory constraints. Reading achievement was selectively linked with earlier repetition scores for low-wordlike nonwords, suggesting a phonological memory contribution in the early stages of reading development. Vocabulary knowledge was associated with repetition accuracy for both low- and high-wordlike nonwords, consistent with the notion that lexical knowledge and nonword repetition share a reciprocal developmental relationship.

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