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The relative contribution of consonants and vowels in word recognition in reading

Hye-Won Lee, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The present study investigates whether consonant and vowel information make different contributions at the early stage of visual word recognition. In linguistics, the distinction between consonants and vowels has been formalized in the modern theory of phonology, which assumes separate representation and processing of consonants and vowels (e.g., Clements & Keyser, 1983; Durand, 1990; Goldsmith, 1990). In cognitive psychology, such a distinction has been suggested generally in the notion of “islands of reliability”, regarding consonant information as more reliable backbones of word processing at the early stage (Carr & Pollatsek, 1995; Perfetti & McCutchen, 1992; Brown & Besner, 1987). This notion has been more specifically formulated in the two cycles model of phonology assembly (Berent and Perfetti, 1995). The purpose of the present study was to investigate the relative contribution of consonants and vowels in word recognition in silent reading through two different experimental paradigms. In the missing letter paradigm used in Experiments 1 and 2, fixation times on a word during reading were examined as a function of the condition and duration of the missing letter. If consonants have an earlier advantage over vowels in word processing, then missing a consonant should yield a greater cost (i.e., longer fixation times) than missing a vowel. In the fast priming paradigm used in Experiment 3, the relation of the prime and target words was manipulated in terms of consonant and vowel similarity. The consonant-vowel distinction was then estimated in the different priming effects as a function of prime-target relation. The results from the three experiments in this dissertation, in line with the findings of Berent and Perfetti (1995), strongly indicate that there is a clear temporal distinction between consonants and vowels in their contribution to word identification in normal reading. Consonants plays a more important role than vowels in the early stage of word processing. This was demonstrated in Experiments 1 and 2 by the longer fixation time on the target word when the consonant was missing than when the vowel was missing for a brief duration (30 ms) from the onset of the word, and was demonstrated in Experiment 3 by the shorter fixation time on the target word when the prime word was more similar to the target word in terms of consonant similarity than in terms of vowel similarity at the 30 ms prime duration. Further, the results from Experiment 3 suggest that lexicality plays a significant role in the consonant-vowel distinction: the early consonant-vowel distinction was observed only when the prime was a high frequency word.

Subject Area

Cognitive therapy|Literacy|Reading instruction

Recommended Citation

Lee, Hye-Won, "The relative contribution of consonants and vowels in word recognition in reading" (1999). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9950181.