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Evaluating missing-letter effects and comprehension in proficient and nonproficient languages

  • JOANNA C. BOVEE (a1) and GARY E. RANEY (a1)


This study was conducted to examine whether word recognition and comprehension processes change as a function of language proficiency. Participants were highly proficient in English but at a low proficiency level in Spanish. The participants read texts presented in English and Spanish while reading normally or while performing a letter-detection task and then answered comprehension questions that tested their mental representations of the surface form, text base, and situational model. Overall letter-detection error rates were lower when texts were presented in the nonproficient Spanish language. There was a typical missing-letter effect in English, such that more detection errors were made on function than content words. In Spanish, the missing-letter effect was reversed, with more errors on content than function words. Overall comprehension was substantially better when reading English passages than Spanish passages and best at the situation model level. For the English passages, comprehension was reduced during letter detection compared to normal reading. For the Spanish passages, comprehension was similar for letter detection and normal reading. Question type did not systematically vary as a function of language proficiency or task type. These findings highlight differences in cognitive processes during reading as a function of language proficiency and enhance our understanding of the letter-detection task itself.


Corresponding author

ADDRESS FOR CORRESPONDENCE Joanna C. Bovee, Department of Psychology (MC 285), University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL 60607. E-mail:


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Applied Psycholinguistics
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