WIRDS, WERDS, WYRDZ: Visual wordlikeness, lexical phonology, and models of visual word recognition

  • Jane Humphreys

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


.Nonwords such as brate and pseudohomophones such as brane are often used to explore the processes involved in decoding orthography, without the potential confound from semantics. Experiments using these usefuJ.items can provide evidence that sheds light on competing models ofvisual word recognition in general and the status oflexical phonology in particular. However, previous experiments have often used stimuli that look implausible as exemplars ofEnglish spelling, (e.g. phret, woez), and it is arguable that some ofthe current controversies in the area may be partly attributable to the use ofsuch stimuli. To investigate this notion, new items were constructed from real words on the grounds that they would contain a high proportion ofexisting orthotactic patterns. Ratings were gathered for the visual wordlikeness ofthe previous stimuli and these new items; the latter generated higher ratings than the former. Analysis ofthe ratings suggested that readers are sensitive to multiple sources oforthographic and graphophonemic information. In a series of naming and lexical decision experiments using the new stimuli, results showed that participants responded to visual wordlikeness across all tasks; for example, reading wordlike pseudohomophones more quickly than unwordlike, and responding to them more slowly in visual lexical decision. A masked priming experiment using wordlike and unwordlike primes showed that lexical phonology was less likely to be activated for the unwordlike pseudohomophones than the wordlike. Overall, the results support a view ofvisual word recognition as a highly-interactive system, processing multiple grain-sizes ofsuhlexical and lexical information in which phonology plays a functional, non-optional, role. While orthotactic violations constrain its normal workings, the system has mechanisms that can be used to process unwordlike items; but it is unlikely that these processes are the same in all respects as those used for wordlike stimuli.
Date of Award2008
Original languageEnglish

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