Structure, form, and meaning in the mental lexicon: evidence from Arabic.

26 Mar 2018

Does the organization of the mental lexicon reflect the combination of abstract underlying morphemic units or the concatenation of word-level phonological units? We address these fundamental issues in Arabic, a Semitic language where every surface form is potentially analyzable into abstract morphemic units - the word pattern and the root - and where this view contrasts with stem-based approaches, chiefly driven by linguistic considerations, in which neither roots nor word patterns play independent roles in word formation and lexical representation. Five cross-modal priming experiments examine the processing of morphologically complex forms in the three major subdivisions of the Arabic lexicon - deverbal nouns, verbs, and primitive nouns. The results demonstrate that root and word pattern morphemes function as abstract cognitive entities, operating independently of semantic factors and dissociable from possible phonological confounds, while stem-based approaches consistently fail to accommodate the basic psycholinguistic properties of the Arabic mental lexicon.