The role of semantic transparency in the processing of spoken compound words

Creemers, A., & Embick, D. (2022). The role of semantic transparency in the processing of spoken compound words. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 48(5), 734-751. doi:10.1037/xlm0001132.
The question of whether lexical decomposition is driven by semantic transparency in the lexical processing of morphologically complex words, such as compounds, remains controversial. Prior research on compound processing has predominantly examined visual processing. Focusing instead on spoken word word recognition, the present study examined the processing of auditorily presented English compounds that were semantically transparent (e.g., farmyard) or partially opaque with an opaque head (e.g., airline) or opaque modifier (e.g., pothole). Three auditory primed lexical decision experiments were run to examine to what extent constituent priming effects are affected by the semantic transparency of a compound and whether semantic transparency affects the processing of heads and modifiers equally. The results showed priming effects for both modifiers and heads regardless of their semantic transparency, indicating that individual constituents are accessed in transparent as well as opaque compounds. In addition, the results showed smaller priming effects for semantically opaque heads compared with matched transparent compounds with the same head. These findings suggest that semantically opaque heads induce an increased processing cost, which may result from the need to suppress the meaning of the head in favor of the meaning of the opaque compound.
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