Root-letter priming in Maltese visual word recognition

Jonathan A. Geary, Adam Ussishkin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


We report on a visual masked priming experiment designed to explore the role of morphology in Maltese visual word recognition. In a lexical decision task, subjects were faster to judge Maltese words of Semitic origin that were primed by triconsonantal letter-strings corresponding to their rootmorphemes. In contrast, they were no faster to judge Maltese words of non- Semitic origin that were primed by an equivalent, but non-morphemic, set of three consonant letters, suggesting that morphological overlap, rather than simple form overlap, drives this facilitatory effect. Maltese is unique among the Semitic languages for its orthography: Maltese alone uses the Latin alphabet and requires that all vowels are written, making such triconsonantal strings illegal non-words to which Maltese readers are never exposed, as opposed to other Semitic languages such as Hebrew in which triconsonantal strings often correspond to real words. Under a decomposition-based account of morphological processing, we interpret these results as suggesting that across reading experience Maltese readers have abstracted out and stored root-morphemes for Semitic-origin words lexically, such that these morphemic representations can be activated by exposure to rootletters in isolation and thus prime morphological derivatives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-25
Number of pages25
JournalMental Lexicon
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2018


  • Lexical access
  • Maltese
  • Root and pattern morphology
  • Semitic
  • Visual masked priming

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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