Learning novel morphology: The role of meaning and orientation of attention at initial exposure

Emma Josephine Marsden, John Williams, Xierong Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A large body of research has shown that suffixes, both inflectional and derivational, can be primed with adult native speakers, informing our understanding of storage and access to morphology in mature systems. However, this line of research has not yet been conducted from an acquisition perspective: little is known about whether representations of suffixes are formed after very little exposure to new morphology, and, if so, the nature of those representations, nor about the influence of attentional orientation and meaning at this initial stage. The three experiments reported here begin to address that gap, investigating the nature of representations following exposure to a small regular system of suffixed words, using cross-modal priming of recognition memory judgements to probe morphological representation. Although the lack of priming suggested that abstract morphological representations were not yet established, recognition judgements showed a clear sensitivity to sub-lexical morphemic units. The pattern of results was unaffected by the orientation of attention or the assignation of meaning to the words or suffixes during training. Off-line tests of learning stem and suffix meanings also showed that both were learnt to some extent even when attention was not oriented to their meanings, and that the resulting knowledge was partially implicit. Thus, there was evidence of sensitivity to both the forms and meanings of the suffixes but not at the level required to support cross-modal priming. We argue that the reason for this may lie in the episodic nature of the knowledge gained after brief exposure.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-36
Number of pages36
JournalStudies in Second Language Acquisition
Issue number4
Early online date11 Jul 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2013


  • language learning theory
  • implicit learning
  • learning grammar
  • teaching grammar
  • foreign language learning

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