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Morphology is an important source of regularity in the English writing system. Morphemes provide a link between word form (phonology and orthography) and word meaning (semantics and grammar). Skilled readers demonstrate rapid analysis of morphological structure during word recognition which enables efficient access to meaning from print. Evidence suggests that children’s explicit awareness of morphological patterns emerges relatively early on in development, but it is not yet clear how and when they acquire morphological representations that are readily activated during reading. Two cross-sectional studies were conducted with children, adolescents and adults to investigate morphological effects in visual word recognition across reading development, and the mechanisms that drive these effects. Results from these studies revealed that all readers demonstrated sensitivity to morphological structure during word recognition tasks, but rapid activation of abstract morphological representations appeared to be a late-acquired milestone in reading development, not emerging until mid-to-late adolescence. These findings underline the importance of morphological knowledge for lexical processing, and provide new evidence that the representations that support rapid access to meaning from print continue to develop over the course of adolescence.


Yaling Hsiao