Abstract morphemes and lexical representation: The CV-Skeleton in Arabic

Sami Boudelaa, William D. Marslen-Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


Overlaps in form and meaning between morphologically related words have led to ambiguities in interpreting priming effects in studies of lexical organization. In Semitic languages like Arabic, however, linguistic analysis proposes that one of the three component morphemes of a surface word is the CV-Skeleton, an abstract prosodic unit coding the phonological shape of the surface word and its primary syntactic function, which has no surface phonetic content (McCarthy, J. J. (1981). A prosodic theory of non-concatenative morphology, Linguistic Inquiry, 12 373-418). The other two morphemes are proposed to be the vocalic melody, which conveys additional syntactic information, and the root, which defines meaning. In three experiments using masked, cross-modal, and auditory-auditory priming we examined the role of the vocalic melody and the CV-Skeleton as potential morphemic units in the processing and representation of Arabic words. Prime/target pairs sharing the vocalic melody but not the CV-Skeleton consistently failed to prime. In contrast, word pairs sharing only the CV-Skeleton primed reliably throughout, with the amount of priming being as large as that observed between word pattern pairs sharing both vocalic melody and CV-Skeleton. Priming between morphologically related words can be observed when there is no overlap either in meaning or in surface phonetic form.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)271-303
Number of pages33
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Arabic
  • CV-Skeleton
  • Mental lexicon
  • Morphology
  • Priming
  • Semitic
  • Vocalic melody
  • Word pattern

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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