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Language, Cognition & Neuroscience

Language, Cognition & Neuroscience ‘Can You Wash off the Hogwash’? – Semantic Transparency of First and

‘Can You Wash off the Hogwash’? – Semantic Transparency

of First and Second Constituents in the Processing of

German Compounds

Journal:

Language, Cognition and Neuroscience

Manuscript ID

PLCP-2016-OP-10019.R2

Manuscript Type:

Original Paper

Date Submitted by the Author:

n/a

Complete List of Authors:

Smolka, Eva; University of Konstanz, Linguistics

Libben, Gary; Brock University

 

morphological priming, compound processing, constituent priming,

Keywords:

semantic transparency

constituent priming, Keywords: semantic transparency URL: http://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/plcp Email:

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THE PROCESSING OF GERMAN COMPOUNDS

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Running Head: CONSTITUENT TRANSPARENCY IN COMPOUND PROCESSING

‘Can You Wash off the Hogwash’? – Semantic Transparency of First and Second

Constituents in the Processing of German Compounds

Correspondence to:

Eva Smolka

Department of Linguistics

University of Konstanz

78457 Konstanz

GERMANY

1 Eva Smolka and 2 Gary Libben

1 University of Konstanz

2 Brock University

Email: eva.smolka@uni-konstanz.de

Phone: +49-7531-88 4834

Fax:

+49-7531-88 4898

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Language, Cognition & Neuroscience

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THE PROCESSING OF GERMAN COMPOUNDS

Abstract

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This study examined whether the lexical processing of German compounds is driven

by semantic transparency and applied an overt visual priming experiment to manipulate the

transparency of modifiers or heads. When manipulating modifiers, participants responded to

compounds like Hundeauge (‘dog’s eye’) or Hühnerauge (‘corn’) that were preceded by their

transparent (Hund, ‘dog’) or opaque (Huhn, ‘hen’) modifier, respectively, or unrelated

controls. When manipulating heads, participants responded to compounds like Pferdeohr

(‘horse’s ear’) or Eselsohr (‘dog-ear’; literal: ‘donkey’s ear’) that were preceded by their

transparently or opaquely related head Ohr (‘ear’), or an unrelated control.

Results showed that compound frequency was facilitatory, head frequency was

inhibitory,

and

modifier frequency was

both.

These

findings

indicate

that

compound

constituents and their corresponding independent words compete in compound processing.

Furthermore,

both

modifiers

and

heads

induced

priming

regardless of

their semantic

transparency,

indicating that lexical

representation

in

German incorporates constituent

structure, regardless of semantic transparency.

Keywords: (5 keywords) morphological priming; compound processing; constituent priming;

semantic transparency; lexical representation;

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‘Can You Wash off the Hogwash’? – Semantic Transparency of First and Second

Constituents in the Processing of German Compounds

Compounds such as blackboard and swordfish represent a class of words that are

extremely common and productive across the world’s languages. Because compound words

are composed of lexical constituents that often correspond to existing free-standing words, it

is easy for a speaker of a language to coin new compounds and to construct a plausible

interpretation for compounds that are encountered for the first time (Libben, 2006). Thus, a

native speaker of English who is familiar with compounds such as swordfish and goldfish will

easily construct interpretations of, and possible visual images for, novel compounds such as

shovel-fish and bronze-fish.

Unlike derivational affixation, compounding rarely involves selection restrictions,

enabling considerable productivity. So, for example, whereas a derivational suffix such as -

ness in English will be restricted to attachment to preceding adjectives, a lexemic element

such as fish in English can combine relatively freely in all positions (e.g., fishnet, fishtail,

swordfish, goldfish, and even a rock music band called Deadfishbabies).

This ease of coinage and interpretability have made it possible for psycholinguists to

use compound words to explore fundamental properties of the lexical processing system, the

manner in which lexical representations are linked in the mind, and the interplay of

constituent and whole word meaning in online lexical processing. In this way, the study of

compound words has had a direct impact on models of the mental lexicon and the role that

morphological processing plays within it. Numerous studies have shown that when native

speakers of a language perceive a stimulus to be a compound word, they cannot but access its

constituents (e.g., Zwitserlood, 1994; Libben, 1994; Kuperman, Bertram, Schreuder, and

Baayen, 2009). This has raised the question of how the activation of whole word

representations is linked to the activation of morphological constituents, a question that has

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Language, Cognition & Neuroscience

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been at the center of competing models of the mental lexicon. Taft and Forster (1975; 1976)

initially proposed that multimorphemic words, including compounds, are processed through

their constituents (i.e, that obligatory constituent activation leads to whole word activation).

This position can be contrasted directly with that proposed by Giraudo and Grainger (2001)

in which exactly the opposite was claimed, namely that constituents are only activated

through whole multimorphemic words. Models such as the one proposed by Baayen and

Schreuder (1999) provided a third approach by claiming that the activation of morphological

constituents and whole words is determined by a number of factors that together determine

which type of lexical representation will be activated before the other for a particular word

under particular circumstances. These positions can be contrasted with proposals that claim

that all representations that can be activated will be activated and that activation does not

require mediation either from constituents to whole words or from whole words to

constituents. Examples of this approach include Libben (2006; 2014), Kuperman, Bertram,

Schreuder, and Baayen, (2009), and Kuperman (2013) whose claims have been based on the

study of compound words.

A key reason for the centrality of compound processing in modeling morphological

processing within the mental lexicon is that the morphological analysis of constituent

structure within compound words is relatively uncomplicated both across and within

languages. This is not to say, however, that compound structures do not differ. As we discuss

below, languages can differ in terms of whether compounding is head initial, head final, or

both. In addition, within languages, compounds can differ greatly in terms of their semantic

transparency.

Heads and Modifiers

Compound words such as blackboard and swordfish follow the structural pattern that

is typical of compounding in Germanic languages like English, Dutch, and German. The final

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constituent provides the basic meaning and specifies the grammatical category of the whole

compound. So, for example, the adjective-noun compound blackboard, is a noun rather than

an adjective. In terms of semantics, the head of the compound shapes the categorical

membership of the whole compound. Thus, a swordfish is understood to be a type of fish, not

a type of sword. This headedness effect is particularly evident when we consider reversible

compounds such as those formed with the nouns boat and house. A boathouse can only be

interpreted in English as a type of house and never a type of boat. Yet, the reversed

compound houseboat can only be interpreted as a type of boat and never a type of house.

It is typical across languages for compounds to have heads and modifiers. However,

whether or not the head is the initial or final constituent of a compound is a language-specific

characteristic. Thus, as Germanic languages, both English and German show head-final

compounding, while in a Semitic language such as Hebrew, the head of a compound appears

as the first constituent, and in Romance languages such as Italian and French, some

compounds are head initial and some compounds are head final.

The modifiers of compounds, although they do not specify grammatical and broad

meaning category, often perform a significant semantic grouping function. This can be seen

by considering, as an example, the family of compound words bound together by the

constituent bat in compounds such as batman, batplane, and batcar or by the constituent

space in compounds such as spaceship, space station, and spaceport or by the constituent

mountain in compounds such as mountaintop, mountain magazine, and mountain boots. In

this latter set, we see, as noted by Gagné and colleagues (e.g. Gagné & Shoben, 1997; Gagné

& Spalding, 2009), that although the constituent mountain can be said to function as a

modifier in all three cases, the sematic relation between mountain as a modifier and the heads

of the compounds differs considerably. In mountaintop, there is a ‘part-of’ semantic relation.

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In mountain magazine, the magazine is ‘about’ mountains. In mountain boots, the boots are

‘for’ mountains.

Recent research has underlined the ways in which compound heads and modifiers can

participate in priming in substantially different ways. As Libben (2014) claims, although

compound constituents often share phonetic and visual forms with the free-standing words

from which they are derived, they may have distinct mental lexical representations

corresponding to their grammatical roles. This opens the possibility that constituents and

their whole word counterparts may in fact compete for activation under specific experimental

conditions. Goral, Libben, Obler, Jarema, and Ohayon (2008) report that constituent priming

effects for initial constituents in English and Hebrew only obtained in the case in which those

constituents corresponded to low frequency free-standing words. For modifiers that

corresponded to high frequency words, constituent priming was indistinguishable from

priming with an unrelated word. This also accords with findings obtained by Marelli,

Crepaldi, and Luzzatti (2009) for Italian.

Semantic Transparency

It is very rare that the meaning of a compound word can be determined from the

meaning of its constituents alone. Even compounds that appear to be fully semantically

transparent such as bedroom, classroom, and sunroom, do not have whole word meanings

that are easily predictable from constituent meanings in the absence of situational experience.

More difficult, of course, are words such as restroom, which contains a euphemistic modifier

that can be said to render the compound semantically more opaque.

There are some extreme cases such as humbug in English (meaning ‘nonsense’) in

which both the modifier and head of a compound can be said to be semantically opaque. It is

not at all clear how the meaning of hum contributes to the meaning of the compound. And,

humbug is not a type of bug. In this way, humbug differs from the much more common type

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of semantically opaque compound such as ladybug, which is a type of bug, but not

straightforwardly related to the meaning of lady. In the present study, we will examine this

type of compounds in German in the manipulation of the transparency of the modifier.

A final type of opaque compound that is rare, but worthy of consideration is the type

exemplified by the English compound doughnut. Here it is the final head constituent that is

semantically opaque. A doughnut is typically made of dough. Yet, it is not a nut, and thus

falls outside the semantic family of compounds whose members include peanut, hazelnut,

and Brazil nut. In this study, we will examine this type of compounds in German in the

manipulation of the transparency of the head.

Modifier-Head and Semantic Transparency Effects in the Online Processing of Compounds

In the modern psycholinguistic study of compound processing, semantic transparency

was already part of the early formulations in Taft and Forster (1976) and was subsequently

investigated by Sandra (1990), Libben, Gibson, Yoon, and Sandra (2003), and Zwitserlood

(1994). These earlier studies addressed the issue of whether the semantic transparency of a

compound word might affect the extent to which its constituents are accessed in online word

recognition. It was expected that semantically opaque words would be less likely to show

constituent activation because the semantic opacity of the whole word would make its

constituents less salient and less useful to lexical comprehension and categorization.

Research over the past decades has yielded results in which semantically opaque

words are generally processed more slowly than semantically transparent words (but see Ji,

Gagné, & Spalding, 2011). This finding suggests that the mechanisms responsible for these

effects are not, yet, fully clear. One approach that is consistent with the finding of a

processing disadvantage for semantically opaque compound words makes reference to

competition between compound constituents and their whole word counterparts (e.g., Libben,

2006; Frisson, NiswanderKlement, & Pollatsek, 2008; Fiorentino & Fund-Reznicek, 2009;

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Gagné & Spalding, 2009; Ji et al., 2011; Libben, 2006; Monahan, Fiorentino, & Poeppel,

2008). Under this approach, there is no fundamental difference in the extent to which the

morphological constituents of opaque and transparent words are accessed during word

recognition. The difference, and the locus of the effect, however, is that for opaque

compounds, constituent access creates more conflict between the properties of the constituent

and the properties of the whole word that corresponds to that constituent. So, for example, the

activation of nut in doughnut will activate features of nut, that are much more compatible

with peanut, walnut, and Brazil nut than with doughnut and its associates cake, cookie, etc

This activation and the need to reduce the lexical conflict it may generate takes time and thus

increases response latency.

Gagné and Spalding (2014) have explored both the effects of semantic transparency

and the contributions of patterns of semantic relations to the manner in which compound

words are represented and processed. In these studies and other studies on the effects of

semantic transparency in compound processing, it has become evident that processing is

affected by the locus of opacity within the word, that is, faster processing occurs if the

opaque constituent is the modifier but not if it is the head (e.g., Zwitserlood, 2004; Libben et

al., 1993).

For German noun-noun compounds, Isel, Gunter, and Friederici (2003) found that the

modifier induced priming only if the head was transparent, but not if the head was

semantically opaque. This accords with the results of Sandra (1990) and Zwitserlood (1994)

in Dutch. Overall, these findings across languages indicate that the headedness of the

compound plays an important role, as well as the transparency of its constituents, and both

factors seem to interact one with the other. Indeed, Marelli and Luzzatti (2012) found a head-

modifier asymmetry associated with both constituent frequency and semantic transparency.

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Compounding in German

9

As we have stated above, German compounds like English ones are head-final. As in

English, German also contains multi-constituent compounds such as baseball bat and coffee

table lamp. In German, however, such compounds are typically written without spaces

between the constituent morphemes (e.g., Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän,

‘captain of the Danube Steam Shipping Company’ or modern Fachbereichsratsitzung,

‘departmental council meeting’). It is also worthy of note that compounding in German is

very productive, so that it will be not uncommon for a native speaker of German to both

encounter and produce novel compounds. The high productivity of compounding in German

creates a very large set of compounds that are transparent (because the producer of a novel

compound depends on the listeners or readers being able to interpret the compound in a given

context from its constituents). German, like English also contains a relatively large set of

semantically opaque compounds such as Hühnerauge (‘chicken’ + interfix + ‘eye’ = ‘corn’;

i.e, the skin growth, clavus). This semantically opaque compound can be contrasted with

semantically transparent German compounds such as Glasauge (‘glass’ + ‘eye’ = ‘glass eye’)

and Hühnersuppe (‘chicken’ + interfix + ‘soup’ = ‘chicken soup’).

The interfix -er noted in the examples Hühnersuppe and Hühnerauge above, points to

a key characteristic of German compounding that distinguishes it from English. This is the

presence of interfixes between the compound constituents. The dominant interfix forms in

German are -(e)n-, -e-, -er-, and -s-. Non-interfixed German compound forms include simple

root+root forms such as Nagellack (Nagel ‘nail’ + Lack ‘polish’ = ‘nailpolish’), in which both

constituents correspond to free morphemes, as well as compounds in which the modifier of

the compound has a truncated form and is not a free morpheme. Thus, the German

compound word for language laboratory is Sprachlabor, which is composed of the root

Sprache (‘language’) minus the final ‘e’, plus the root Labor (‘laboratory’). Linguistic

theories discuss whether the insertion of interfixes depends on prosodic features of the first

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constituent (to achieve a better metric structure of the compound; cf. Wegener, 2003) or on

the lexical level at which suffixes or interfixes may occur (cf. Wiese, 1996). Given that about

35% of German compounds contain interfixes, the German interfix system has been

investigated in a number psycholinguistic studies. Libben, Jarema, Dressler, Stark, and Pons

(2002) examined how the presence or absence of an interfix in a German compound affects

patterns of constituent priming in lexical decision task. Libben and colleagues found that

constituent priming effects for interfixed compounds are related to the extent to which the

initial constituent in a compound shows a consistent pattern in the language with respect to

whether or not it is typically followed by an interfix and whether or not it can be followed by

more than one interfix form. Most of the compound stimuli that we employed in the present

study included those with interfixes, only few those with truncated roots (see Material

section).

As we have noted above, German is a language that is extremely well suited to the

psycholinguistic investigation of compound reading. In German, compounding is a highly

productive word formation process which has consistent morphological headedness. German

is also consistent in its visual representation of compounds so that biconstituent and

multiconstituent compounds are typically written as single words (i.e., without spaces).

Our investigation focused on three questions that have been central in the

psycholinguistic literature on morphological processing in general and on compound

processing in particular. These three questions are listed below.

Question 1: Does the prior activation of a form corresponding to a morphological

constituent affect its processing? The paradigm of constituent priming with lexical decision

provides a straightforward means of addressing this question. It was our expectation that, in

general, constituent priming would be facilitating, as compared to priming by a word that is

visually and semantically unrelated to the target compound or its constituents. However, if it

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is indeed the case that compound constituents and their independent word counterparts

constitute distinct and potentially competing mental representations (Libben, 2014), then we

should expect that the overall facilitating effect of constituent priming would be mitigated in

cases in which the frequency of the constituent as a free-standing word is high. Hence,

following the findings of Marelli and Luzzatti (2012), we expected that the frequency of the

modifier should compete with the activation of the whole compound and mitigate the overall

facilitating effects of constituent priming. By contrast, we expected that compound frequency

will facilitate compound processing, that is, the higher the frequency of the compound, the

faster it will be recognized.

Question 2: Is constituent priming affected by the semantic transparency of a

compound? As we have noted above, the issue of semantic transparency has received a great

deal of attention in the psycholinguistic literature on compound processing. And, there seems

to be little doubt that, at some level, language users would experience some difference

between opaque and transparent compound forms (if only in their ability to correctly guess at

the meanings of newly encountered ones). However, it does not necessarily follow from this

that transparent and opaque forms will differ in terms of the fundamental components of

word recognition (e.g., in how letters are processed within words or perhaps whether

constituent boundaries are recognized). Indeed, it could be the case that the fact that

compounding in German is so productive creates conditions under which semantic opacity

would play less of a role, as compared to, say, compounding in Romance languages, in which

it is less dominant as a word formation process.

Previous findings in German have shown that complex verbs are lexically represented

via their constituents regardless of their transparency (Smolka, Komlósi, & Rösler, 2009;

Smolka et al., 2014). If these findings generalize to compounds and our assumption holds that

lexical representation in German comprises the constituents, we will find priming from both

semantically transparent and opaque constituents. By contrast, if the lexical representation of

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compounds in German is organized according to semantic transparency similar to that in

English (e.g., Marslen-Wilson, Bozic, & Randall, 2008; Marslen-Wilson, Tyler, Waksler, &

Older, 1994; Rastle, Davis, Marslen-Wilson, & Tyler, 2000; Rastle, Davis, & New, 2004;

Taft & Nguyen-Hoan, 2010), a compound will share a lexical entry with their modifier or

with their head only if it is semantically transparent, but not if it is opaque. Accordingly, the

transparent but not the opaque constituent will induce priming to the compound.

Question 3: Do constituent effects differ depending on whether they are heads or

modifiers? The effects of potential word-constituent competition discussed in Question 1

above, and the effects of semantic transparency discussed in Question 2 above could be

affected substantially by whether a constituent in a constituent priming paradigm corresponds

to the head or the modifier of the compound target. There are a number of reasons that this

might be the case. The first may be that, generally speaking, heads and modifiers participate

in compound processing in different ways simply by virtue of their morphological roles in a

multimorphemic word. Additionally, it is possible that heads and modifiers differ with

respect to the word-constituent competition (which would be specifically linked to the

constituent priming paradigm that we employed), and that heads and modifiers differ with

respect to semantic transparency (which would be specifically linked to the experimental

manipulation that we used). Questions 1, 2 and 3 above constituted the focus of our analysis

of the study. The constituent priming experiment involved lexical decision responses to

compound targets in German. In this paradigm, we made use of two key contrasts among

stimuli. The first was stimulus contrast based on the semantic transparency of the modifier.

The second was stimulus contrast based on the semantic transparency of the head.

Investigating modifier transparency. A core feature of our stimulus selection was that,

in order to investigate modifier transparency, we selected pairs of compounds that have the

same head, but different modifiers. This created stimulus compound pairs such as Hundeauge

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(‘dog’s eye’) and Hühnerauge (literal, L: ‘hen’s eye’). Both compounds have the morpheme

Auge (meaning ‘eye’) as the head. However, in the first case, the compound is semantically

transparent. The compound composed of dog+eye means the eye of a dog. In contrast, the

compound composed of hen+eye is not normally interpreted by native speakers to simply

mean the eye of a hen. Rather, it is given the more semantically opaque interpretation of

referring to a local hardening and thickening of the epidermis (as on a toe) that has the

medical term clavus and is usually called a corn in English. In our study, the two different

modifiers Hund (‘dog’) and Huhn (‘hen’) were both used as related primes for each of the

target compounds Hundeauge and Hühnerauge, respectively, and constituent priming was

measured relative to matched unrelated nouns for each of the compound modifiers. Prime

conditions are exemplified in Table 1; all critical items are listed in Appendix A.

Investigating head transparency. In order to investigate effects of head transparency,

we again selected pairs of compounds that have the same head, but different modifiers. In this

case, however, the locus of opacity was the head morpheme. Consider, as an example, the

compounds Lastesel (‘pack donkey’) and Drahtesel (L: ‘wire donkey’; F: ‘bicycle’). They

share the head Esel, that as a free morpheme means ‘donkey’. The transparent compound

pack+donkey, refers to something that is a type of donkey. This is not the case in the

compound Drahtesel (‘bicycle’) in which the semantic relationship of the head morpheme to

an actual ‘donkey’ is metaphorical. In this case, the same head Esel (‘donkey’) was used as a

related prime for both target compounds Lastesel and Drahtesel, and constituent priming was

measured relative to a matched unrelated noun. Prime conditions are exemplified in Table 2;

all critical items are listed in Appendix B.

Matters of experimental design and control. As we have discussed above, the priming

conditions differ between the stimulus sets investigating the transparency of the modifier and

that of the head. In the former, the related prime is the modifier and thus differs for each

compound target (together with the matched unrelated control), given that each compound

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contains a different modifier, even though it contains the same head as its ‘twin’ in the

compound pair (e.g., Hundeauge ‘dog+eye’, Hühnerauge ‚hen+eye’). In the stimulus set

used to investigate head transparency, the related prime is the head (and thus also the

matched unrelated control), which is the same for the two compound targets of a compound

pair holding the same head. Thus, while previous studies have typically used completely

different compounds in different transparency conditions, the present study aimed to enhance

the constituent priming design for compounds by comparing compound pairs that keep the

head constant. In addition, the present stimuli contained only nouns as stimuli to avoid word

category effects, and a filler rate of 72% was used to prevent expectancy and strategic effects.

Further, the primes in all conditions were simple nouns and were thus (a) of the same word

category, and (b) closely matched on distributional variables like lemma and word form

frequency, number of letters, syllables and neighbors. The primes differed only with respect

to their morphological and meaning relatedness with the compound target. To tap into lexical

processing (for a review see Smolka, Preller, & Eulitz, 2014), we used overt priming with

long visual prime-exposure durations (of 300 ms SOA) and measured priming relative to an

unrelated condition.

Method

Participants

Thirty-nine students of the University of Konstanz participated in the experiment. All

were monolingual native speakers of German, were not dyslexic, and reported normal or

corrected-to-normal vision.

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Materials

Semantic association test.

15

A semantic association test was conducted to establish the relatedness between

compounds and their constituents. We started out with about 300 different compounds that

were combined with three types of primes: the modifier, the head, and an unrelated control

noun (matched to the head on various distributional variables; there were no control nouns

matched to the modifier in the semantic association test). Compounds and their different

primes were distributed across eight lists, each list held between 150 to 154 word pairs. In

total, about 1,212 prime-target pairs were tested. The noun intended as the prime preceded

the compound. Each list contained one related and one unrelated prime of the same

compound. For example, list 3 tested the meaning relation of the head in the pair Lupe-

Zeitlupe and an unrelated control Enge-Zeitlupe; list 4 tested the meaning relation of the

modifier in the pair Zeit-Zeitlupe and Enge-Zeitlupe. Sixty-nine participants who did not

participate in the experiment proper rated the meaning relation between a word pair on a 7-

point scale from completely unrelated (1) to highly related (7). For example, “Please rate on a

scale from 1-7 how strongly Lupe (‘magnifying glass’) is meaning-related with Zeitlupe

(‘slow-motion’)?”; or “… how strongly Zeit (‘time’) is meaning-related with Zeitlupe (‘slow-

motion’)?”

Critical stimuli for investigating modifier transparency.

Twenty-eight compound pairs were selected from the semantic association test

described above. Each compound pair held the same head, as in Hundeauge (‘dog’s eye) and

Hühnerauge (‘corn’, literal: ‘hen’s eye’). In each compound pair, the modifier of one

compound was semantically transparent, such as Hund (‘dog’) in Hundeauge, and

semantically opaque, such as Huhn (‘hen’) in Hühnerauge in the other compound.

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The following criteria determined whether a compound pair was included in the

critical set: The mean ratings for a compound with a transparent modifier had to be higher

than 4, and those for a compound with an opaque modifier had to be lower than 3.3. Mean

ratings of the final set were 5.7 (SD 0.6) for semantically transparent and 2.7 (SD 0.3) for

opaque modifiers. A one-way ANOVA was performed on mean ratings with compounds as

random variables. The between items factor transparency was highly significant, F(1, 54) =

449.55, p < .0001, indicating that the ratings for semantically transparent and opaque

constituents significantly differed from each other.

All compounds had interfixes with the exception of two that had truncated roots.

These were Sonnabend, which is composed of the root Sonne (‘sun’) minus the final ‘e’, plus

the root Abend (‘evening’), and similar for Wollmütze. Besides the compound Deckmantel

(from decken, ‘to cover’) which is a verb-noun compound, all compounds were noun-noun

compounds.

Each compound like Hundeauge was combined with two primes: (a) the modifier like

Hund (‘dog’) and (b) an unrelated noun like Rest (‘left-over’) that was neither

morphologically, semantically, nor form-related with the compound. Each unrelated noun

was closely matched to the related modifier on number of syllables and letters, as well as on

lemma frequency (according to CELEX, Baayen et al., 1993). A one-way ANOVA

conducted on lemma frequencies indicated that there was no difference between related and

unrelated prime conditions, F < 1. Table 1 provides all stimulus characteristics. The

frequency of the modifier was always higher than that of the whole compound, with only one

exception (Sonnabend: lemma frequency = 94/million, Sonne: lemma frequency =

91/million).

Table 1 about here

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Critical stimuli for investigating head transparency.

As with the manipulation of the modifier, the critical set of 28 compound-pairs

holding the same head, as in Lastesel (‘pack donkey’) and Drahtesel (‘bicycle’, literal: ‘wire

donkey’), were selected from the semantic association test described above. The meaning of

the compound’s head Esel (‘donkey’) was either semantically transparent or opaque, as in

Lastesel and Drahtesel, respectively. To be included in the critical set, a compound with a

transparent head needed a mean rating score higher than 4, and a compound with an opaque

head required a rating score lower than 3.4. Mean ratings of the final set were 5.8 (SD 0.8)

for semantically transparent and 2.7 (SD 0.4) for semantically opaque heads. A one-way

ANOVA was performed on mean ratings with compounds as random variables. The between

items factor transparency was highly significant, F(2, 54) = 350.61, p < .0001, indicating that

the ratings for semantically transparent heads significantly differed from the ones for opaque

heads.

Of the 56 compounds, two had truncated roots (Erdnuss, ‘peanut’, and Seitpferd,

pommel horse’), two compounds were verb-noun compounds (Pennbruder from pennen,

‘sleep’, and Zwickmühle from zwicken, ‘pinch’), one was an adjective-noun compound

(Wildpferd from wild, ‘wild’), all others were noun-noun compounds.

Both compounds of a compound pair (e.g., Lastesel and Drahtesel) were combined

with two primes, (a) the head like Esel (‘donkey’) and (b) an unrelated noun like Papa

(‘dad’) that was neither morphologically, semantically, nor form-related with the compound.

Each unrelated noun was closely matched to the head on number of syllables, letters, and

neighbors as well as on lemma and word form frequency (according to CELEX, Baayen et

al., 1993). A one-way ANOVA conducted on lemma and word form frequencies indicated

that there was no difference between related and unrelated prime conditions, F < 1.

Table 2 provides all stimulus characteristics. Appendix B lists all compounds and

heads and their corresponding transparency definitions and ratings as well as matched

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unrelated primes. The frequencies of all heads were higher than those of their corresponding

compounds.

Table 2 about here

In addition, we collected distributional variables separately for (a) the modifier, (b)

the head, (c) the whole-word compound, and (d) the prime (related/unrelated; related primes

correspond to the modifier). The following variables were collected from the dlexDB

database (Heister et al., 2011): absolute and normalized lemma frequency, absolute and

normalized familiarity, number of Coltheart neighbors (i.e. neighbors according to the

definition by Coltheart, Davelaar, Jonasson, and Besner (1977), are types of the same length

that differ with respect to a single position from the reference type; additions or deletions of a

sign are not allowed), and number of Levenshtein neighbors (i.e. neighbors according to the

definition by Levenshtein et al. (1966), are types that differ from the reference type in a

single editing operation, which may include the exchange, insertion or deletion of a sign).

Absolute and normalized lemma frequencies were further collected from the CELEX

database (see Baayen et al., 1993), as well as number of letters and syllables.

Transparency measures were (a) the mean rating scores (on a scale from 1-7 from the

semantic association test described above) that reflected the meaning relatedness between the

modifier or the head and the whole-word compound, and (b) the binary Transparency

(transparent/opaque) of the modifier or head, as referred to in a dictionary (Dudenredaktion,

2009). If the dictionary description referred to the meaning of the constituent, it was

considered as being ‘transparent’, otherwise it was considered as being ‘opaque’. For

example, the DUDEN defines Apfelbaum (‘apple tree’) as ‘redly- whitish blossoming fruit

tree with apples as fruits’. Because both constituents ‘tree’ and ‘apple’ appear in the

definition, both are considered as being transparent (i.e. a TT compound). The modifier

referring to ‘light’ occurs in the definition of Lichtermeer (‘sea of lights’) – a ‘large amount

of brightly glowing lamps and lights’ – and is thus transparent, while the head ‘sea’ is not

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referred to and thus opaque (hence, this is a TO compound). In the definition of Spiegelei

(‘egg sunny side up’) as an ‘egg that is fried in a pan while the egg yolk remains whole’, the

head ‘egg’ is referred to so that it is considered transparent while the modifier is opaque (i.e.

it is an OT compound). With respect to OO compounds, the DUDEN entry typically neither

refers to the modifier nor the head, as is the case in Hühnerauge (L: ‘hen’s eye’; F: ‘corn’),

Drahtesel (L: ‘wire donkey’; F: ‘bicycle’) which is paraphrased as ‘bicycle’, or Schlagbaum

L: ‘hit tree’; F: ‘barrier’, ‘toll bar’) which is defined as ‘barrier (especially at borders) that

can be vertically raised’. Appendices A and B list all compounds, their related constituents

(modifiers and heads, respectively) and their corresponding transparency definitions and

ratings as well as matched unrelated primes.

Fillers.

To prevent strategic effects, a total of 288 prime-target pairs were added as fillers.

None were morphologically, semantically, nor form-related. All had simple nouns as primes,

88 had compounds and 200 had pseudocompounds as targets. Pseudocompounds were

constructed by exchanging one or two letters in each constituent of a real compound, while

preserving the phonotactic constraints of German. All pseudocompounds thus had the same

morphological structure as real compounds.

To summarize, each list contained 288 fillers and 112 critical items, half of which

were related, the other half unrelated (resulting in 56 related and 344 unrelated prime-target

pairs per list). Overall, the large amount of fillers reduced the proportion of (a) all critical

items to 28%, (b) form-relatedness (between constituent and compound) to 14%, and (c)

meaning-relatedness (between transparent modifiers and heads and the corresponding

compound) to 7% of the whole material set. All filler items differed from those of the critical

set.

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Apparatus

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Stimuli were presented on a 18.1” monitor connected to an IBM-compatible AMD

Atlon 1.4 GHz personal computer. Stimulus presentation and data collection were controlled

by the Presentation software developed by Neurobehavioral Systems (http://nbs.neuro-

bs.com). Response latencies were recorded from the left and right buttons of a push-button

box.

Design

Primes of the same compound target were rotated over two lists according to a Latin

Square design. Participants received only one experimental list and therefore saw each target

word only once. Participants saw four priming conditions, those in list 1 saw related primes

of compounds holding transparent modifiers, unrelated primes of compounds holding opaque

modifiers, related primes of the opaque head, and unrelated primes of the transparent head,

and vice versa for participants of list 2. For example, participants in list 1 saw Hund-

Hundeauge and Zaun-Hühnerauge, Esel-Drahtesel and Papa-Lastesel; and participants in list

2 saw Rest-Hundeauge and Huhn-Hühnerauge, Papa-Drahtesel and Esel-Lastesel.

Each list was divided into four blocks, each block containing the same amount of

stimuli per condition. In total, an experimental session comprised 400 prime-target pairs

presented in four experimental blocks, with 100 prime-target pairs per block. Trial

presentation within blocks was pseudo-randomized separately for each participant, so that no

more than four consecutive word or nonword targets occurred in a row. Sixteen additional

prime-target pairs served as practice trials.

Procedure

Participants were tested individually, seated at a viewing distance of about 60 cm

from the screen. Stimuli were presented in white Sans-Serif letters on a black background. To

make primes and targets physically distinct stimuli, primes were presented in uppercase

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letters, point 26, 20 points above the center of the screen, targets were presented centrally in

lowercase letters, point 30.

Each trial started with a fixation cross for 1000 ms in the center of the screen. This

was followed by the presentation of the prime for 200 ms, followed by a blank screen for 100

ms, resulting in a stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA) of 300 ms. Then the target appeared and

remained on the screen until a participant’s response. The inter-trial interval was 1500 ms.

Participants were instructed that they will see a fixation cross, a first word, and a second word

to which they should make a lexical decision as fast and as accurately as possible. ‘Word’

responses were given with the index finger of the dominant hand, ‘pseudoword’ responses

with the subordinate hand. Feedback was given on both correct (‘richtig’) and incorrect

(‘falsch’) responses during the practice session, and on incorrect responses during the

experimental session.

The experiment lasted for about 30 minutes. Participants self-administered the breaks

between blocks, and took at least one longer break.

Results

One participant whose error rate was very high (>16%) was removed, so that the data

of 38 participants were included in the analyses.

RT Analyses

Only correct responses and response times between 200 ms and 1500 ms were

included in the RT data analyses. To avoid collinearity, we ran multiple Pearson correlation

analyses to assess whether distributional variables of interest (i.e. the measures of frequency,

familiarity, and neighbors of the modifier, the head, and the whole-word compound) were

correlated with each other. The correlation matrix is provided in Appendix C. In the

following analyses, only variables with a correlation coefficient lower than 0.3 were

included.

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We used R (R Core Team, 2012) and lme4 (e.g., Bates, 2005; Bates, Maechler, &

Bolker, 2012; Baayen, Davidson, & Bates, 2008) to perform linear mixed effects analysis. As

random effects, we had intercepts for participants and compounds, as well as by-participants

and by-compounds slopes for the variable Relatedness. To remove autocorrelational structure

from the residual errors (Baayen & Milin, 2010), we included the response latency and the

correctness at the preceding trial (Previous RT and Previous Correct, respectively) as control

predictors. In all of the following analyses we included the fixed-effect factors Relatedness

and binary or rated Transparency of the modifier and the head. We further tested the

influence of various distributional variables, separately for (a) the modifier, (b) the head, (c)

the whole-word compound, and (d) the prime (related/unrelated; related primes correspond to

the first constituent). These were number of letters and syllables, absolute and normalized

lemma frequency, absolute and normalized familiarity, number of Coltheart and Levenshtein

neighbors. All of the distributional variables referring to frequency, familiarity, and

neighborhood measures were log-transformed and centered (cf. Winter, 2013).

The best model fit was obtained by comparing the Akaike Information Criterion

(AIC) statistics between models (cf. Sakamoto, Ishiguro, & Kitagawa, 1986).

Overall analysis.

We started out with analyses that included all the data, that is, the manipulations of

both modifier and head transparency. The best model fit included the control predictors

Previous RT and Previous Correct, and the fixed-effect factors Relatedness in interaction

with the factor Compound Frequency, and the factor Manipulated Constituent in interaction

with Head Familiarity and Modifier Frequency. Note that the model that exchanges Modifier

Frequency with Modifier Familiarity was equivalent according to the AIC statistics (with a

difference between models < 7). Given that Modifier Frequency and Modifier Familiarity are

highly correlated (see also Appendix C) and express similar features of the modifier, in the

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following we report the model with Modifier Frequency. Table 3 summarizes the effects. All

frequency measures refer to log-transformed and centered absolute lemma frequencies taken

from dlexDB.

Table 3 about here

Decision latency and accuracy at the previous trial were strong predictors of the

current target’s decision latency: A faster response at the previous trial predicted a faster

response at the current trial, and an incorrect response at the previous trial predicted a slower

response at the current trial.

The fixed-effect factor Relatedness was significant (the unrelated condition was used

as reference level). Responses to compounds were faster following related primes than

following unrelated primes. As predicted, the lemma frequency of the whole-word compound

had a strong facilitatory effect: The recognition of compounds was faster to higher- than to

lower-frequent compounds. However, the two factors Relatedness and Compound Frequency

interacted indicating that related primes (i.e. constituents of the compound) facilitated the

recognition of lower-frequent compounds, while there was no priming effect for higher-

frequent compounds.

In contrast to previous findings and expectations, though, there were no effects

whatsoever concerning the transparency of either the modifier or the head (neither the binary

nor the rating scores of the semantic association test), which is the reason why they were not

included in the model.

The fixed-effect factor Manipulated Constituent interacted with Head Familiarity and

Modifier Frequency, indicating that higher familiarity with the head slowed responses when

the transparency of the head was manipulated, that is, when the head functioned as related

prime (while there was no effect of Head Familiarity when the modifier functioned as prime).

The second interaction between Manipulated Constituent and Modifier Frequency indicated

that higher frequency of the modifier facilitated responses when the transparency of the head

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Language, Cognition & Neuroscience

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was manipulated (i.e. when heads functioned as primes but not when modifiers functioned as

primes). The fact that the Manipulated Constituent interacts with distributional variables

describing either the modifier or the head indicates that these variables have a different

impact on the recognition of compounds depending on whether the modifier or the head were

presented as primes. In the following, we thus present separate analyses – one relating to the

manipulation of the modifier transparency and the other relating to the manipulation of the

head transparency.

Analysis of modifier transparency.

In this analysis, only the data referring to the materials with modifiers (and their

controls) as primes were included. The best model fit included the control predictors Previous

RT and Previous Correct, and the fixed-effect factors Relatedness, Compound Frequency,

and Modifier Frequency (the two significant frequency measures refer to log-transformed and

centered absolute lemma frequencies taken from dlexDB). Table 4 summarizes the effects.

Table 4 about here

As in the overall analyses described above, decision latency and accuracy at the

previous trial were strong predictors of the current target’s decision latency: A faster response

at the previous trial predicted a faster response to the current trial, and an incorrect response

at the previous trial predicted a slower response to the current trial.

As in the overall analysis, the fixed-effect factor Relatedness was significant (the

unrelated condition was used as reference level). Responses to compounds were faster

following related primes than following unrelated primes. Also Compound Frequency was

facilitating with faster responses to higher frequent compounds than to lower frequent ones.

By contrast, the frequency of the modifier inhibited responses on related trials, as evident in

an interaction between the Modifier Frequency and the fixed-effect factor Relatedness (see

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Figure 1): If the modifier functioned as prime, responses got slower the higher-frequent the

modifier.

Figures 1 and 2 about here

In contrast to previous findings and expectations, there were, again, no effects

whatsoever concerning the transparency of the modifier (neither the binary nor the rating

scores of the semantic association test), which is the reason why they were not included in the

model. Most importantly, the transparency of the modifier did not affect priming in that both

transparent and opaque modifiers primed their corresponding compounds relative to unrelated

primes. Figure 2 depicts this effect.

To summarize, the best model fit included the factors latency and accuracy at the

previous trial, prime Relatedness in interaction with Modifier Frequency, and Compound

Frequency (see Table 4).

Analysis of head transparency.

In this analysis, only the data referring to the materials with heads as primes (and their

controls) were included. As in the overall analysis, there were two equivalent models

according to the AIC statistics, in which Modifier and Head Frequency can be exchanged by

Modifier and Head Familiarity. Obviously, the distributional variables of Frequency and

Familiarity depict similar characteristics of the modifier and the head (see Appendix C for

collinearity of variables), so that in the following, we describe the model with Frequency.

The best model included the control predictors latency and accuracy at the previous trial, the

fixed-effect factor Relatedness in interaction with Compound Frequency, as well as the

factors Modifier Frequency and Head Frequency. Table 5 summarizes the effects.

Table 5 about here

As in the overall analysis, responses were faster following fast responses at the

previous trial and responses were slower following incorrect responses at the previous trial.