Putting morphology back in the mental lexicon. An fMRI study of derivational processes in English

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: School of Psychology

Abstract

Most of the words we use are complex, consisting of meaningful and structural subparts (eg, dis-agree-ment). The system of rules that govern the internal structure of words is called morphology. Inflectional morphology marks grammatical information such as number and tense to produce new forms of the same root form without change in meaning (eg hear to hearing).



In contrast, derivational morphology produces new words in which the basic meaning of the root and the syntactic class may change; for example, the noun creeper is quite distant in meaning from the verb creep.



The productive power of morphological processes is clearly shown in English which has approximately one hundred derivational affixes (eg, -ist, -ism, -er) to create new words.



Evidence is accumulating that complex words are stored in the mental lexicon in a morphologically decomposed form. However, even models of morphological decomposition argue that the relationship between roots and affixes is determined by relationships in either meaning or sound form. In contrast, we argue that morphological principals govern both the representations and processing of complex words.



This research will generate new experimental fMRI and behavioural evidence for morphologically governed word representations and word recognition processes.

Publications


10 25 50
 
Description [1] Our project yielded novel experimental findings (both neurological and behavioural) that have theoretical implications for neuropsychological, psycholinguistic and linguistic theory. Our fMRI data demonstrate differences in the BOLD response during word reading due to covert morphological complexity unrelated to changes to the surface form of words. These data confirm the role of the LIFG in such morphological processes but show no difference in more posterior areas related to early visual word processing. This pattern of results is supported by our behavioural studies, which demonstrate processing differences between one and two-step words in delayed but not masked priming.

[2] Our findings provide strong constraints for models of visual word recognition. They challenge accounts that model morphological structure as an epiphenomenon of the mapping from surface form to semantics. Our data provide strong support for an explicit role for morphology during visual word recognition and provide new evidence concerning the representations and processes involved. They are consistent with an early affix-stripping process which is blind to morphological relationships and a later derivational process which is sensitive to covert morphological complexity.

[3] In linguistic theory, there are controversies about how to handle noun-to-verb changes that occur without overt affixation. One proposal is that these are independent lexical entries with semantic associations but no derivational link. Another hypothesis appeals to a morphological derivation via the addition of a null morpheme or by an act conversion, thereby assuming an increase in complexity. Our results provide the first experimental evidence that structural complexity is involved.
Exploitation Route Our finding have theoretical impact within the fields of reading and language comprehension.
Sectors Other
 
Description A behavioural and fMRI investigation of the processing of zero derivation in English. EPS Hull 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation paper presentation
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The talk was well received

Interst in research and its publiation
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description An fMRI investigation of the processing of zero derivation in English. Annual Meeting of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation poster presentation
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Postdoc presented poster

Increased interest in research
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Planning spoken sentences: the role of prosodic units. Seminar on Prosodic Interfaces. JNU New Delhi 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation keynote/invited speaker
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The talk was given to a largely linguistic audience and was well recieved. A great deal of interest was shown in our findings and in using the experimental method we developed as a diagnostic linguisitic tool.

Increased interest in experimental research
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Pronoun attachment in English prosodic word production. Invited seminar, Department of Linguistics, University of Texas at Austin 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Invited seminar given to Department of Linguistics, University of Texas at Austin. Audience showed interest in the novel method.

interest in publication
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Why bridging is harder than running : processing zero-derivations in English visual word recognition. Beckman Institute University of Illinois, U.S.A 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Invited seminar, Beckman Institute University of Illinois, U.S.A. Nijmegen, Netherlands.

Academics requested further information about this research
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Why bridging is harder than running: processing zero-derivations in English visual word. Max Plank Institute, Nijmegen 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Presented research at the Max Plank Insitute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, NL. The talk was well received and people showed a great interest in this research

Requests for further information about the research and its publication
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011