Exploring the nature and impact of word endings as orthographic cues to lexical stress in English
MetadataShow full item record
Lexical stress, which refers to the pattern of emphasis across syllables in a word, is central to the phonology and identity of multisyllabic words in English. As such, establishing how readers process stress in written words is crucial to a full understanding of English word reading. Recent evidence shows that written word endings act as probabilistic cues to stress, affecting readers’ naming and recognition of written words (e.g., the ending –et is associated with first-syllable stress, whereas –oon is associated with second-syllable stress). In this dissertation, I address four open questions about the nature and impact of written word endings as cues to stress in English. Study 1 confirmed that English-speaking adults are quicker to make lexical decisions toward words whose endings accurately cue stress than those whose endings give misleading cues to stress. This effect was similar across endings that can and cannot serve as English suffixes, suggesting that suffixes are not unique in their role as stress cues. Study 2 explored statistical learning as a mechanism behind readers’ sensitivity to word endings as stress cues. Its main finding was that adults’ lexical decisions were affected by exposure to all words with a given ending—those that share a word’s stress pattern facilitate quicker responses; those with differing stress patterns yield slower responses. Study 3 established that word endings cue lexical stress independently of vowel quality—stress’ key phonemic correlate. In a spelling choice task that manipulated stress while controlling vowel pronunciations, adults and children in Grades 5–6 used aurally-presented stress patterns to guide their pseudoword spelling choices. However, younger children preferred the more frequent spelling option, regardless of stress pattern. Finally, Study 4 found that adults use word endings as cues to stress when reading texts for comprehension, though elementary school-aged children do not. Together, these findings speak to a robust role for word endings as orthographic cues to stress across a variety of reading tasks. I discuss implications for theoretical models of word reading and argue that the findings align with a connectionist account of stress placement in multisyllabic word reading.