Lexical storage and retrieval of polymorphemic and polysyllabic words

Margus Taft*, Kenneth I. Forster

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

410 Citations (Scopus)


Five experiments are deseribed which examine how polysyllabic words (e.g., DAY-DREAM, ATHLETE) are stored and retrieved from lexical memory. The first four experiments look at interference effects caused by the accessing of inappropriate lexical entries. It is found that compound nonwords whose first constituent is a word (e.g., DUSTWORTH, FOOTMILGE) take longer to classify as nonwords than compound nonwords whose first constituent is not a word (e.g., TROWBREAK, MOWDFLISK). Moreover, the presence of a word in the second constituent position appears to be irrelevant. These effects hold even when the boundary between constituents is unclear on an orthographic basis (e.g., TRUCERIN). It is also argued that first syllables, as opposed to last syllables, have independent status in the lexicon since nonword first syllables (e.g., ATH) show interference effects, while last syllables (e.g., CULE) do not. The fifth experiment reveals that the frequency of the first constituent of a compound word influences classification times. The results point to the conclusion that polysyllabic words, regardless of whether they are polymorphemic or monomorphemic, are accessed via their first syllable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)607-620
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1976
Externally publishedYes


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