The Second language processing of nominal compounds: a masked priming study

Çelikkol Berk, Nurten
The primary purpose of the present study was to understand the workings of the cognitive mechanisms underlying L2 morphological processing, and more particularly, to explore how noun-noun compounds in L2 English are processed by native speakers of Turkish in the earliest stages of word recognition. Furthermore, the study investigated the role of constituent morphemes in the processing of compound words and examined whether or not a compound word primes its first and second constituents equally. The final purpose was to examine whether L2 proficiency is a critical factor affecting the mechanisms used when processing morphologically complex words. Four masked priming experiments were conducted to investigate compound processing in L2 English. Experiments 1a and 1b examined first constituent priming using the compound word as a prime and its first constituent as target (e.g., bedroom – BED) in both low proficiency and high proficiency learners of L2 English. Experiments 2a and 2b, on the other hand, examined second constituent priming (e.g., bedroom – ROOM) with low and high proficiency learners of L2 English, respectively. The findings indicated that automatic morphological decomposition occurs at the earliest stages of visual word recognition, irrespective of semantic information and orthographic overlap and in the recognition of English noun-noun compounds by L2 learners, the lexical representations of the first constituent plays a significant role. Additionally, both high proficiency and low proficiency L2 learners employ similar processing mechanisms; however, less proficient L2 learners rely more on the declarative memory system during the processing of compound words in English.