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Morphological decomposition in native and non-native French speakers*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 September 2014

University of Kansas
University of Kansas
Address for correspondence: Caitlin Coughlin, Department of Linguistics, University of Kansas, 1541 Lilac Lane, Blake Hall Room 427, Lawrence, KS 66047,


This study investigates whether late second/foreign language (L2) learners can rely on mechanisms similar to those of native speakers for processing morphologically complex words. Specifically, it examines whether native English speakers who have begun learning French around the onset of puberty can decompose -er (Class I) French verbs. Mid-to-high-proficiency L2 learners and native French speakers completed a masked-priming word-naming task. Latencies for morphologically related, orthographically related, and semantically related prime–target combinations were compared to latencies for identical and unrelated prime–target combinations. The results reveal the following effects: full morphological priming for both native and non-native speakers, with this effect increasing with French proficiency for L2 learners; partial orthographic priming for both groups; greater priming in the morphological condition than in the orthographic condition for both groups; and no semantic priming for either group. We conclude that L2 learners have access to similar mechanisms to those of native speakers for processing morphologically complex words.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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For their insightful comments on this research, we are very grateful to: Drs Robert Fiorentino, Alison Gabriele and Stephen Politzer-Ahles; the members of the Research in Acquisition and Processing group at the University of Kansas; and Dr Robert DeKeyser and three anonymous reviewers. Any misunderstandings are, of course, our own.


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