Learning beyond words Morphology and the encoding of hierarchical categories

Niveen Omar, Karen Banai, Bracha Nir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Learning multimorphemic words involves the simultaneous learning of two hierarchically organized categories. In such words, sub-lexical units usually encode superordinate categories, whereas whole words encode exemplars of these categories. Complex, non-linear word structure is common in Semitic languages and can be used to probe the learning of multiple form-meaning associations. The aim of this study was to investigate how well Hebrew-speaking adults learn the dual form-meaning relationships that reflect different categorical levels following a few exposures to novel Hebrew-like words. Twenty-four native Hebrew-speakers were exposed to novel words through an interactive video story. Following a few exposures to the words, the learning of the exemplars was tested in a three-alternative-forced-choice identification test. The learning of the sub-lexical morphemes and the categories they encode were tested in generalization tests. The results show that a few exposures to novel, morphologically and conceptually complex words are sufficient to allow unsupervised simultaneous learning of two hierarchical categories even though the superordinate was not explicitly represented in the input.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)397-421
Number of pages25
JournalMental Lexicon
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - 31 Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© John Benjamins Publishing Company.


  • Category learning
  • Form-meaning relationship
  • Morphology
  • Semitic
  • Superordinate category
  • Word learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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