The role of semantic transparency in the processing of English Compound Words

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Experiment 1 examined whether the semantic transparency of an English unspaced compound word affected how long it took to process it in reading. Three types of opaque words were each compared with a matched set of transparent words (i.e. matched on the length and frequency of the constituents and the frequency of the word as a whole). Two sets of the opaque words were partially opaque: either the first constituent was not related to the meaning of the compound (opaque-transparent) or the second constituent was not related to the meaning of the compound (transparent-opaque). In the third set (opaque-opaque), neither constituent was related to the meaning of the compound. For all three sets, there was no significant difference between the opaque and the transparent words on any eye-movement measure. This replicates an earlier finding with Finnish compound words (Pollatsek & Hyönä, 2005) and indicates that, although there is now abundant evidence that the component constituents play a role in the encoding of compound words, the meaning of the compound word is not constructed from the parts, at least for compound words for which a lexical entry exists. Experiment 2 used the same compounds but with a space between the constituents. This presentation resulted in a transparency effect, indicating that when an assembly route is 'forced', transparency does play a role.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-107
Number of pages21
JournalBritish Journal of Psychology
Volumein press
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2008