Semantic transparency in free stems: the effect of Orthography–Semantics Consistency in word recognition


Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 68(8), 1571-1583


January, 2015


Marelli, M., Amenta, S. and Crepaldi, D.

A largely overlooked side effect in most studies of morphological priming is a consistent main effect of semantic transparency across priming conditions. That is, participants are faster at recognizing stems from transparent sets (e.g., farm) in comparison to stems from opaque sets (e.g., fruit), regardless of the preceding primes. This suggests that semantic transparency may also be consistently associated with some property of the stem word. We propose that this property might be traced back to the consistency, throughout the lexicon, between the orthographic form of a word and its meaning, here named Orthography-Semantics Consistency (OSC), and that an imbalance in OSC scores might explain the “stem transparency” effect. We exploited distributional semantic models to quantitatively characterize OSC, and tested its effect on visual word identification relying on large-scale data taken from the British Lexicon Project (BLP). Results indicated that (a) the “stem transparency” effect is solid and reliable, insofar as it holds in BLP lexical decision times (Experiment 1); (b) an imbalance in terms of OSC can account for it (Experiment 2); and (c) more generally, OSC explains variance in a large item sample from the BLP, proving to be an effective predictor in visual word access (Experiment 3).