Lexical Stress and Linguistic Predictability Influence Proofreading Behavior
Harris, Lindsay N., 1979--
Perfetti, Charles A.
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There is extensive evidence that the segmental (i.e., phonemic) layer of phonology is routinely activated during reading, but little is known about whether phonological activation extends beyond phonemes to subsegmental layers (which include articulatory information, such as voicing) and suprasegmental layers (which include prosodic information, such as lexical stress). In three proofreading experiments, we show that spelling errors are detected more reliably in syllables that are stressed than in syllables that are unstressed if comprehension is a goal of the reader, indicating that suprasegmental phonology is both active during silent reading and can influence orthographic processes. In Experiment 1, participants received instructions to read for both errors and comprehension, and we found that the effect of lexical stress interacted with linguistic predictability, such that detection of errors in more predictable words was aided by stress but detection of errors in less predictable words was not. This finding suggests that lexical stress patterns can be accessed prelexically if an upcoming word is sufficiently predictable from context. Participants with stronger vocabularies showed decreased effects of stress on task performance, which is consistent with previous findings that more skilled readers are less swayed by phonological information in decisions about orthographic form. In two subsequent experiments, participants were instructed to read only for errors (Experiment 2) or only for comprehension (Experiment 3); the effect of stress disappeared when participants read for errors and reappeared when participants read for comprehension, reconfirming our hypothesis that predictability is a driver of lexical stress effects. In all experiments, errors were detected more reliably in words that were difficult to predict from context than in words that were highly predictable. Taken together, this series of experiments contributes two important findings to the field of reading and cognition: (1) The prosodic property of lexical stress can influence orthographic processing, and (2) Predictability inhibits the detection of errors in written language processing.