The representation of Hebrew words: Evidence from the obligatory contour principle

Iris Berent, Joseph Shimron

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The Hebrew root morpheme typically consists of three consonants. Hebrew allows a gemination of a root consonant, but constrains its location [McCarthy, J. (1979). Formal problems in semitic phonology and morphology. Cambridge, MA; MIT Ph.D. dissertation. Distributed by Indiana University Linguistics Club. Garland Press, New York, 1985]. A gemination of a root-consonant is permitted at the end of the root (e.g., [mss]), but not at its beginning (e.g., [ssm]). Two experiments examined readers' sensitivity to the structure of the root morpheme by obtaining ratings for nonwords derived from nonroots. Root-initial gemination (e.g., [ssm]) was judged unacceptable compared to root-final gemination (e.g., [mss]) or no gemination controls (e.g., [psm]). The sensitivity to root structure emerged regardless of the position of the root in the word. These results have several implications. (1) Our findings demonstrate morphological decomposition. Hebrew speakers' ratings reflect a phonological constraint on the location of geminates. Being the domain of this constraint, the root morpheme must form a separate constituent in the representation of Hebrew words. (2) The rejection of root-initial gemination supports the psychological reality of the Obligatory Contour Principle, a pivotal constraint in autosegmental phonology. (3) A sensitivity to the location of geminates pre-supposes a distinction between the representation of geminate and nongeminate bigrams. Such a distinction, however, requires the implementation of a symbol. Our findings converge with numerous linguistic evidence in suggesting that the representation of constituency structure is necessary to account for linguistic generalizations.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)39-72
    Number of pages34
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Jul 1997

    Bibliographical note

    Funding Information:
    This research was supported by a National Research Service Award F32 DC 00186-01 to Iris Berent. Additional support was provided by National Institute of Health FIRST Award CM 5 R29 NS 26247-05 to Guy C. Van Orden. We are grateful to Guy Van Orden, Greg Stone and Steven Pinker for discussions of this work. We also thank Inon Berent and Mara Georgi for their technical assistance.

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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