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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00163

Separability of lexical and morphological knowledge: Evidence from language minority children

  • 1Department of Learning Disabilities, Faculty of Education, University of Haifa, Israel
  • 2Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center for the Study of Learning Disabilities, University of Haifa, Israel
  • 3Department of Psychology, University of Haifa, Israel

Lexical and morphological knowledge of school-aged children are correlated with each other, and are often difficult to distinguish. One reason for this might be that many tasks currently used to assess morphological knowledge require children to inflect or derive real words in the language, thus recruiting their vocabulary knowledge. The current study investigated the possible separability of lexical and morphological knowledge using two complementary approaches. First, we examined the correlations between vocabulary and four morphological tasks tapping different aspects of morphological processing and awareness, and using either real-word or pseudo-word stimuli. Thus, we tested the hypothesis that different morphological tasks recruit lexical knowledge to various degrees. Second, we compared the Hebrew vocabulary and morphological knowledge of 5th grade language minority speaking children to that of their native speaking peers. This comparison allows us to ask whether reduced exposure to the societal language might differentially influence vocabulary and morphological knowledge. The results demonstrate that indeed different morphological tasks rely on lexical knowledge to varying degrees. In addition, language minority students had significantly lower performance in vocabulary and in morphological tasks that recruited vocabulary knowledge to a greater extent. In contrast, both groups performed similarly in abstract morphological tasks with a lower vocabulary load. These results demonstrate that lexical and morphological knowledge may rely on partially separable learning mechanisms, and highlight the importance of distinguishing between these two linguistic components.

Keywords: vocabulary, Lexical knowledge, morphology, language-minority, Bilingual, type, Token

Received: 12 Sep 2017; Accepted: 31 Jan 2018.

Edited by:

Iris Berent, Northeastern University, United States

Reviewed by:

Avital Deutsch, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
Michal Raveh, Western Galilee College, Israel  

Copyright: © 2018 Shahar Yames, Eviatar and Prior. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Mrs. Daphna Shahar Yames, University of Haifa, Department of Learning Disabilities, Faculty of Education, Haifa, Israel, daphna.shahar@gmail.com