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Two experiments assessed whether 7-year-old children activate semantic information from sub-word orthography. Children made category decisions to visually-presented words, some of which contained an embedded word (e.g., hip in ship). In Experiment 1 children were slower and less accurate to classify words if they contained an embedded word related in meaning to the category (e.g., slower to reject ship as a 'body part' than an 'animal'), especially when the embedded word was higher in frequency than the carrier word. This demonstrates that young children activate semantic information from sub-word orthographic representations, and that they do so from the relatively early stages of learning to read. Experiment 2 replicated this effect. Furthermore, we observed semantic interference regardless of whether the embedded word shared its pronunciation with the carrier (e.g., the hip in ship) or not (e.g., the crow in crown), and regardless of its position within the carrier, suggesting that interference was not dependent on phonological mediation. These findings show that by 7-years-of age, children have begun to establish an orthographic system that is capable of activating sub-word orthographic patterns, strong enough to connect with meaning, when reading words silently.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





273 - 278


Child, Female, Humans, Learning, Male, Psycholinguistics, Reading, Semantics