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The processing of affixed English words during reading: Frequency, word length, and affixal homonymy

Elizabeth Niswander, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The purpose of the dissertation was to investigate how we store and access affixed English words by monitoring participants' eye movements during sentence reading. Previous research (Niswander, Pollatsek & Rayner, 2000) indicated that both the frequency of the root morpheme and the frequency of the whole word affect the fixation time on a suffixed word while reading. The current research findings confirm the effects of both root and whole-word frequencies for prefixed words in English. In addition, the current research indicates that word length plays an important mediating role: for prefixed words, there is clear evidence that for long words the effect of root frequency is dominant, whereas for short words, the effect of word frequency is dominant. This effect mirrors a finding in Finnish (Bertram & Hyönä, 2003) for compound words In contrast, the word length by frequency results were less clear for the suffixed word sets. Finally, the effect of affixal homonymy was investigated. Reading times on words containing homonymic affixes were compared to words whose affixes were not homonymic, and there was some evidence that a homonymic affix interferes in the processing of the word. Models of complex word processing were discussed in the context of the research findings.

Subject Area

Cognitive therapy

Recommended Citation

Niswander, Elizabeth, "The processing of affixed English words during reading: Frequency, word length, and affixal homonymy" (2003). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3110535.