Transposed letter priming effects and allographic variation in Arabic: Insights from lexical decision and the same-different task

Sami Boudelaa, Dennis Norris, Abdesattar Mahfoudhi, Sachiko Kinoshita

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Reading is resilient to distortion of letter order within a word. This is evidenced in the "transposed-letter (TL) priming effect," the finding that a prime generated by transposing adjacent letters in a word (e.g., jugde) facilitates recognition of the base word (e.g., JUDGE), more than a "substituted-letter" control prime in which the transposed letters are replaced by unrelated letters (e.g., junpe -JUDGE). The TL priming effect is well documented for European languages that are written using the Roman alphabet. Unlike these languages, Arabic has a unique position-dependent allography whereby some letters change shape according to their position within a word. We investigate the TL priming effect using a lexical decision (Experiment 1) and a same-different match task with Arabic words (Experiment 2) and nonwords (Experiment 3). No TL priming effects were found in Experiment 1, suggesting that the lexical-decision task engages lexical access processes that are sensitive to the Semitic nonlinear morphological structure. Experiments 2 and 3 revealed a robust TL priming effect overall. Nonallographic TL primes produced significantly larger facilitation than allographic TL primes, indicating that Arabic readers use allographic variation to resolve the uncertainty in letter order during the early stages of orthographic processing. The implication of these results for current letter position coding models is discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)729-757
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019


  • Allography
  • Same-different matching task
  • TL priming

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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