On the locus of the syllable structure effect in visual word recognition: Evidence from European-Portuguesa

Ana Duarte Campos (Universidade do Minho, Portugal), Helena Mendes Oliveira (Universidade do Minho, Portugal), and Ana Paula Soares (Universidade do Minho, Portugal)

Many studies conducted in different languages have demonstrated that the syllable plays a relevant role at early stages of visual word recognition, not only in adult skilled readers but also in developing readers. However, the analysis of the developmental trajectory of this effect showed that although at early stages of reading acquisition the visual word recognition system seems to take advantage of the syllable both for consonant-vowel (CV) and consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) first-syllable structure words (e.g., BA.ZAR[bazar] and CIS.NE[swan], respectively), as the process of reading acquisition unfolds, this advantage is confined to CV first-syllable words. To investigate the origin of this effect, we conducted two experiments with European Portuguese skilled readers who were asked to perform a lexical decision task (is it a word or nonword?) combined with a masked priming paradigm. In this paradigm, CV and CVC target words were preceded by briefly presented nonword primes that could be either syllable congruent (e.g., ba.zis-BA.ZAR, cis.ra-CIS.NE), syllable incongruent (e.g., baz.fa-BA.ZAR, ci.ser-CIS.NE), or unrelated (e.g., de.cre-BA.ZAR, zar.vo-CIS.NE) with the targets. Since CVC syllables are more complex and might need more time to be processed than CV syllables, Experiment 1 manipulated stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA) between primes and targets at increased prime durations: 50 ms, 66 ms and 82 ms. Experiment 2 further investigated if the difference between the number of syllabic neighbours (i.e., the number of words with the same length that share the same syllable at first position) and the frequency of these neighbours in CV and CVC words can be boosting the CV syllable effect observed in skilled readers – note that CV words tend to have significantly more and hence higher-frequency syllable neighbours than CVC words. Results from both experiments showed that neither syllable complexity, nor syllable neighbourhood density nor frequency can account for the syllable structure effect observed.

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