Taking the Book from the Bookshelf: Masked Constituent Priming Effects from Compound Words and Nonwords


  • Beyersmann Elisabeth
  • Kezilas Yvette
  • Coltheart Max
  • Castles Anne
  • Ziegler Johannes C
  • Taft Marcus
  • Grainger Jonathan


  • Compound word processing
  • Embedded words
  • Masked priming
  • Lexical decision

document type



Recent evidence from visual word recognition points to the important role of embedded words, suggesting that embedded words are activated independently of whether they are accompa-nied by an affix or a non-affix. The goal of the present research was to more closely examine the mechanisms involved in embedded word activation, particularly with respect to the “edge-alignedness” of the embedded word. We conducted two experiments that used masked priming in combination with lexical decision. In Experiment 1, monomorphemic target words were either preceded by a compound word prime (e.g., textbook-BOOK/textbook-TEXT), a compound-non-word prime (e.g., pilebook-BOOK/textpile-TEXT), a non-compound nonword prime (e.g., pimebook-BOOK/textpime-TEXT) or an unrelated prime (e.g., textjail-BOOK/jailbook-TEXT). The results revealed significant priming effects, not only in the compound word and compound-nonword conditions, but also in the non-compound nonword condition, suggesting that embedded words (e.g., book) were activated independently of whether they occurred in combination with a real morpheme (e.g., pilebook) or a non-morphemic constituent (e.g., pimebook). Priming in the com-pound word condition was greater than in the two nonword conditions, indicating that partici-pants benefited from the whole-word representation of real compound words. Constituent prim-ing occurred independently of whether the target word was the first or the second embedded constituent of the prime (e.g., textbook-BOOK vs. textbook-TEXT). In Experiment 2, significant priming effects were found for edge-aligned embedded constituents (e.g., pimebook-BOOK), but not for mid-embedded (e.g., pibookme-BOOK) or the outer-embedded constituents (e.g., bopimeok-BOOK), suggesting that edge-alignedness is a key factor determining the activation of embedded words.

more information