Do ‘blacheap’ and ‘subcheap’ both prime 'cheap'? An investigation of morphemic status and position in early visual word processing

The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 71(8), 1645–1654.


Much research suggests that words comprising more than one morpheme are decomposed into morphemes in the early stages of visual word recognition. In the present masked primed lexical decision study, we investigated whether or not decomposition occurs for both prefixed and suffixed nonwords and for nonwords which comprise a stem and a non-morphemic ending. Prime-target relatedness was manipulated in three ways: (1) primes shared a semantically transparent morphological relationship with the target (e.g., subcheap-CHEAP, cheapize-CHEAP); (2) primes comprised targets and non-affixal letter strings (e.g., blacheap-CHEAP, cheapstry-CHEAP); and (3) primes were real, complex words unrelated to the target (e.g., miscall-CHEAP, idealism-CHEAP). Both affixed and non-affixed nonwords significantly facilitated the recognition of their stem targets, suggesting that embedded stems are activated independently of whether they are accompanied by a real affix or a non-affix. There was no difference in priming between stems being embedded in initial and final string positions, indicating that embedded stem activation is position-independent. Finally, more priming was observed in the semantically interpretable affixed condition than in the non-affixed condition, which points to a semantic licensing mechanism during complex novel word processing.

The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 71(8), 1645–1654