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Interplay between morphology and frequency in lexical access: the case of the base frequency effect

Vannest, Jennifer
Newport, Elissa L.
Newman, Aaron J.
Published in Brain Research. 2011, vol. 1373, p. 144-159
Abstract A major issue in lexical processing concerns storage and access of lexical items. Here we make use of the base frequency effect to examine this. Specifically, reaction time to morphologically complex words (words made up of base and suffix, e.g., agree+able) typically reflects frequency of the base element (i.e., total frequency of all words in which agree appears) rather than surface word frequency (i.e., frequency of agreeable itself). We term these complex words decomposable. However, a class of words termed whole-word do not show such sensitivity to base frequency (e.g., serenity). Using an event-related MRI design, we exploited the fact that processing low-frequency words increases BOLD activity relative to high frequency ones, and examined effects of base frequency on brain activity for decomposable and whole-word items. Morphologically complex words, half high and half low base frequency, were compared to match high and low frequency simple monomorphemic words using a lexical decision task. Morphologically complex words increased activation in the left inferior frontal and left superior temporal cortices versus simple words. The only area to mirror the behavioral distinction between the decomposable and the whole-word types was the thalamus. Surprisingly, most frequency-sensitive areas failed to show base frequency effects. This variety of responses to frequency and word type across brain areas supports an integrative view of multiple variables during lexical access, rather than a dichotomy between memory-based access and on-line computation. Lexical access appears best captured as interplay of several neural processes with different sensitivities to various linguistic factors including frequency and morphological complexity.
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VANNEST, Jennifer et al. Interplay between morphology and frequency in lexical access: the case of the base frequency effect. In: Brain Research, 2011, vol. 1373, p. 144-159.

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Deposited on : 2018-03-02

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