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Lexical access of mass and count nouns

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Two psycholinguistic experiments were carried out in Italian to test the role played by the feature that distinguishes mass nouns from count nouns, as well as by the feature that distinguishes singular nouns from plural nouns. The first experiment, a simple lexical decision task, revealed a sensitivity of the lexical access system to the processing of the features Mass and Plural as shown by longer reaction times. In particular, nouns in the plural yielded longer reaction times than in the singular except when the plural form was irregular. Furthermore, the feature Mass also affected processing, yielding longer reaction times. In the second experiment, a sentence priming task, both the Plural and the Mass effects did not surface when a grammatical sentence fragment was the prime. These data show a direct correlation between the linguistic ‘complexity’ of plural/mass nouns and processing time. They also suggest that this complexity does not affect normal fluent spoken language where words are embedded in a semantic and syntactic context.
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Keywords: count nouns; lexical decision; lexicalized features; mass nouns; morpho-syntactic features; sentence priming

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 15, 2009

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