Effects of word length and sentence context on compound word recognition: An eye movement investigation
Compound words are morphologically complex words that are composed of two lexemes (e.g. farmhouse, blackboard). By investigating how compound words are processed, insight can be gained into the organization of the mental lexicon. Five experiments are reported which explored how English compound words are processed. In each experiment, compound words were embedded into sentences and readers' eye movements were recorded as they read these sentences. Several reading time measures were analyzed to investigate the time-course of compound word recognition. Representations of the compound words were examined by manipulating the frequency of the beginning lexeme in the compound (Experiments I1A, 1B, 3A), the frequency of the ending lexeme (Experiment 3B), or the familiarity of the whole compound word (Experiment 2). Experiments 1A and 1B demonstrated that compound word length does not consistently modulate whether beginning lexeme frequency effects are observed for English compound words. However, there are larger effects for overall compound familiarity on most reading time measures for long compound words compared to short compound words (Experiment 2). Experiments 3A and 3B manipulated the predictability of the sentence context with respect to compound words. Having a highly predictive sentence context significantly reduced early effects of beginning lexeme frequency (Experiment 3A), but not later effects of beginning lexeme frequency (Experiment 3A) or ending lexeme frequency (Experiment 3B). Also, compound words that contained a high frequency lexeme were read faster than length and frequency matched monomorphemic words. Correlations and multiple regression analyses suggested that the size of a compound word's morphological family and the number of higher frequency morphological family members significantly affect compound word reading time. The results are discussed in terms of a proposed framework for English compound word recognition where morphological representations are hierarchically organized within the lexicon.