The processing of morpheme-like units in monomorphemic words

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The word virus is not normally considered polymorphemic, yet it is clearly both semantically and orthographically related to the word viral. Thus, the subunit vir takes on the role of a bound morpheme. In contrast, the words future and futile also share a subunit (fut), but are semantically unrelated. The reported experiment demonstrates facilitation in a masked priming experiment for the semantically related pairs that share an initial orthographic subunit (e.g., virus–viral), but not for the semantically unrelated pairs (e.g., future–futile). Whether the subunit was pronounced the same way in the prime and target was shown to be irrelevant. Furthermore, semantic relatedness was insufficient to produce priming when orthography was not shared. It was concluded that, while the units of processing within the orthographic system may be the same for the two types of item, their representation at a higher level may depend on the correlation between form with meaning. For example, virus and viral might share a higher level representation and thus facilitate each other, whereas future and futile might be represented separately at that higher level and even compete with each other.

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