Phonological constraints on reading: Evidence from the obligatory contour principle

Iris Berent, Joseph Shimron, Vered Vaknin

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Hebrew frequently manifests gemination in its roots, but strictly constrains its position: Root-final gemination is extremely frequent (e.g., bbd), whereas root-initial gemination is rare (e.g., bdd). This asymmetry is explained by a universal constraint on phonological representations, the Obligatory Contour Principle (McCarthy, 1986). Three experiments examined whether this phonological constraint affects performance in a lexical decision task. The rejection of nonwords generated from novel roots with root-initial gemination (e.g., Ki-KuS) was significantly faster than roots with final gemination controls (e.g., Si-KuK). The emergence of this asymmetry regardless of the position of geminates in the word implicates a constraint on root, rather than simply word structure. Our results further indicate that speakers are sensitive to the structure of geminate bigraM.S., i.e., their identity. Nonwords formed from roots with final gemination (e.g., Si-KuK) were significantly more difficult to reject than foils generated from frequency-matched no gemination controls (e.g., Ni-KuS). Speakers are thus sensitive to the identity of geminates and constrain their location in the root. These findings suggest that the representations assembled in reading a deep orthography are structured linguistic entities, constrained by phonological competence.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)644-665
    Number of pages22
    JournalJournal of Memory and Language
    Issue number4
    StatePublished - May 2001


    • Hebrew
    • Morphology
    • OCP
    • Phonology
    • Reading

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
    • Language and Linguistics
    • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
    • Linguistics and Language
    • Artificial Intelligence


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