Structure, form, and meaning in the mental lexicon: evidence from Arabic

Sami Boudelaa, William D. Marslen-Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


Does the organization of the mental lexicon reflect the combination of abstract underlying morphemic units or the concatenation of word-level phonological units? We address these fundamental issues in Arabic, a Semitic language where every surface form is potentially analyzable into abstract morphemic units – the word pattern and the root – and where this view contrasts with stem-based approaches, chiefly driven by linguistic considerations, in which neither roots nor word patterns play independent roles in word formation and lexical representation. Five cross-modal priming experiments examine the processing of morphologically complex forms in the three major subdivisions of the Arabic lexicon – deverbal nouns, verbs, and primitive nouns. The results demonstrate that root and word pattern morphemes function as abstract cognitive entities, operating independently of semantic factors and dissociable from possible phonological confounds, while stem-based approaches consistently fail to accommodate the basic psycholinguistic properties of the Arabic mental lexicon.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)955-992
Number of pages38
JournalLanguage, Cognition and Neuroscience
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Sept 14 2015


  • Arabic
  • mental lexicon
  • morphological processing
  • roots
  • semantic and phonological effects
  • word patterns

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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