Minimal minstrels: Psycholinguistic and computational insights into the processing and learning of words with Latinate bound roots

Minimal minstrels: Psycholinguistic and computational insights into the processing and learning of words with Latinate bound roots

First Author: Matthew Carlson -- Penn State University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Trevor J. Bero; Amy C. Crosson; Amaya O. Madden
Keywords: Morphological Awareness, Morphological processing, Word Learning, English Language Learners (ELL)
Abstract / Summary: 

Purpose:
Morphological awareness aids vocabulary learning (Bowers et al., 2010). However, words containing bound roots (e.g., min in diminish) consistently prove challenging. This project draws from psycholinguistic research on morphological segmentation and computational linguistics to investigate the salience of bound roots in the lexicon. We hypothesized that salience of bound roots erodes over time, rendering them less useful in words where they are difficult to detect.

Methods:
We assessed the independence of 51 Latinate bound roots in the COCA-Academic corpus (Davies, 2012) using Morfessor (Creutz & Lagus, 2002, Virpioja, et al., 2013), an unsupervised computational model that uses Minimum Description Length to identify a lexicon’s useful morphemes. For all words containing the orthographic string matching each root (e.g. min) we assessed whether Morfessor isolated the root, then computed each root’s morphological family size. These were used to predict adult lexical decision performance in the ELP (Balota et al., 2007), and L2 English learner adolescents’ learning of 18 target words in an intervention study (Crosson et al., in press).

Results:
Adult lexical decisions were slower when Morfessor isolated the root, and the whole-word frequency effect was attenuated for words from large morphological families, confirming the validity of Morfessor-derived predictors. Adolescents exhibited superior knowledge of words from large morphological families at pre-test, but learning was greater for small family sizes.

Conclusions:
The usefulness of bound roots depends on their processability in the present-day lexicon, regardless of etymology. Understanding how the lexicon shapes morphological processing offers vital insights for vocabulary learning and intervention.