There is growing evidence that morphological masked priming is sensitive to the morphological surface structure of the prime and not to semantic transparency. That is, morphological facilitation effects are obtained between two morphologically related words even if there is no semantic relationship between them (Feldman et al., 2002; Longtin et al., 2003; Rastle & Davis, 2003; Rastle et al., 2000). We will report a series of experiments using visual masked priming technique in which we investigated how morphological structure and semantic transparency affect the processing of French words. We used pairs of words consisting of semantically transparent words and their base (fillette/fille `little girl/girl'), semantically opaque words and their etymological base (vignette/vigne `label/vine'), pseudo-derived words and their pseudo-base (baguette/bague `French bread, stick/ring'), and pairs of words that were only orthographically related (abricot/abri `apricot/shelter', -cot not being a suffix in French). Overall, the results showed that, in masked priming (47 ms prime duration), a pure morphological priming effect was obtained independently of semantic transparency, and not attributable to strict orthographic overlap. This pattern of priming was obtained when the surface morphological structure was controlled across the transparent, opaque and pseudo-derived conditions (as in the examples above) and was replicated in two different experiments.
To explain these results, we will propose that morphological decomposition is a default analytic process that is blind to the real morphemic status of the word and that applies to words having a surface structure that is parsable into morphemes. We propose that this `default decomposition' applies at the early stages of processing, which explains why it only surfaces in masked priming with very short prime duration but not in a cross-modal paradigm (cf. Longtin et al., 2003; Marslen-Wilson et al., 1994).
Feldman, L.B., D. Barac-Cikoja, and A. Kostic (2002) Semantic aspects of morphological processing: Transparency effects in Serbian. Memory and Cognition, 30(4), 629-636.
Longtin, C.-M., Segui, J., Hallé, P.A. (2003) Morphological priming without morphological relationship. Language and Cognitive Processes, 18(3), 313-334.
Marslen-Wilson, W.D., Tyler, L. K., Waksler, R., & Older, L. (1994). Morphology and meaning in the English mental lexicon. Psychological Review, 101 (1), 3-33.
Rastle, K. and M.H. Davis (2003) Priming morphologically-complex words: Some thoughts from masked priming. Kinoshita, S. and Lupker, S. (Eds) Masked priming: The State of the Art. New York: Psychology Press.
Rastle, K., Davis, M.H., Marslen-Wilson, W.D., & Tyler, L.K. (2000). Morphological and semantic effects in visual word recognition: A time-course study. Language and Cognitive Processes, 15 (4/5), 507-537.