Morphological units in the Arabic mental lexicon

Sami Boudelaa, William D. Marslen-Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

112 Citations (Scopus)


Standard views of morphology in Modern Standard Arabic hold that surface word forms comprise at least two morphemes: a three-consonantal root conveying semantic meaning and a word pattern carrying syntactic information. An alternative account claims that semantic information is carried by a bi-consonantal morphological unit called the etymon. Accordingly, in the form [batara] the core meaning is carried not by the tri-consonantal root morpheme {btr} but by the etymon morpheme {b,t} which surfaces in other forms like [batta] 'sever', [batala] 'cut off' with the same meaning 'cutting'. Previous experimental research in Semitic languages has assumed the tri-consonantal root/word pattern approach. In cross-modal and masked priming experiments we ask whether the etymon, as a more fine-grained two-consonantal morphological unit, can yield the morphological priming effects typically obtained with tri-consonantal root morphemes. The results clearly show that two words sharing an etymon do facilitate each other both in cross-modal and masked priming even though they do not share a root, controlling for semantic and for form overlap effects. The bearing of these results on theories of morphological processing and representation is discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-92
Number of pages28
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Arabic morphology
  • Cross-modal priming
  • Etymon
  • Masked priming
  • Root morpheme

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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