Morphology in Word Recognition: Hindi and Urdu



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The present research examined whether morphology influences word recognition independently of form-level word properties. Prevailing views attribute cross-linguistic differences in morphological processing to variations in morphological structure and/or productivity. This study tested whether morphological processing is additionally influenced by the orthographic depth of written language, by comparing primed word naming among biliterate readers of Hindu and Urdu, languages written in distinct orthographies but sharing a common morphophonology. Results from five experiments supported the view that morphological processing in orthographically shallow (transparent) Hindi script diverged significantly from that in the deeper (opaque) Urdu orthography. Specifically, morphological priming was differently affected in Hindi vs. Urdu by prim presentation conditions (Exps. 1-3): very briefly exposed (48ms), forward masked morphological primes facilitated word naming in Hindi but not in Urdu. Neither briefly presented, unmasked primes nor longer prime exposures (80ms/240ms) produced priming in Hindi, but Experiment 2 showed priming by unmasked Hindi primes at a 240 ms exposure. By contrast, Urdu exhibited morphological priming only for forward masked primes at the long exposure of 240ms. Thus, early-onset priming in Hindi resembled morpho-orthographic decomposition previously recorded in English, whereas Urdu evinced priming consistent with morpho-semantic effects documented across several languages. Hemispheric asymmetry in morphological priming also diverged across Hindi and Urdu (Exps. 4 and 5); Hindi revealed a non-significant numerical trend for facilitation by morphological primes only in the right visual field (RVF), whereas reliable morphological priming in Urdu was limited to left visual field (LVF) presentation.Disparate patterns in morphological processing asymmetry were corroborated by differences in baseline visual field asymmetries in Hindi vs. Urdu word recognition- filler words elicited a consistent RVF advantage in Hindi, whereas in Urdu, one-syllable fillers, but not two- and three-syllable words revealed the RVF advantage. Taken together, the findings suggest that the variable of orthographic depth be integrated more explicitly into mainstream theoretical accounts of the mechanisms underlying morphological processing in word recognition. In addition, this study highlights the psycholinguistic potential of the languages Hindi and Urdu for advancing our understanding of the role of orthography as well as phonology in morphological processing.