The time course of the syllable frequency effect in visual word recognition: evidence for both facilitatory and inhibitory effects in French

Mahé, Gwendoline; Bonnefond, Anne; Doignon-Camus, Nadège
January 2014
Reading & Writing;Jan2014, Vol. 27 Issue 1, p171
Academic Journal
The present study tracked the time course of the syllable frequency effect in French visual word recognition, by varying the strength of spreading activation between letters and phonological syllables. The frequency of phonological first syllables and the frequency of orthographic first syllables were conjointly manipulated in two lexical decision tasks. In Experiment 1, word parsing into syllable units was supported by orthographic redundancy. No interaction between orthographic and phonological syllable frequency was found. In Experiment 2, word parsing into syllables was not marked by orthographic redundancy. Results showed an interaction between orthographic and phonological syllable frequency: the syllable frequency effect was inhibitory when orthographic syllable frequency was high, whereas it was facilitatory when orthographic syllable frequency was low. Decreasing the strength of syllable activation (i.e., with orthographic syllables of low frequency and ambiguous syllable boundaries) prevented the activation of lexical competitors before target word recognition, leading to a facilitatory effect of syllable frequency. The present study provides evidence that the net effect of syllable frequency is strongly related to its time course, and that the strength of syllable activation, which depends on orthographic properties, determines the direction of the net effect.


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