LingLang Lunch (1/29/2020): Joanna Morris (Hampshire College & RISD)

Joanna Morris is a professor of cognitive science in the school of Cognitive Science at Hampshire College is is also teaching at RISD. Her work focuses on the cognitive processes that underlie reading. Her current research is focused on examining how complex words—words with multiple parts like sing-er and un-happy are represented in the mental dictionary. For more information, her website is here.


Is there a ‘moth’ in mother? How we read complex words (and those that are just pretending to be).

Skilled readers identify words with remarkable speed and accuracy, and fluent word identification is a prerequisite for comprehending sentences and longer texts. Although research on word reading has tended to focus on simple words, models of word recognition must nevertheless also be able to account for complex words with multiple parts or morphemes. One theory of word reading is that we break complex words into their component parts depending on whether the meaning of the whole word can be figured out from its components. For example, a ‘pay-ment’ is something (the ‘-ment’ part) that is paid ( the ‘pay-’ part); a ‘ship-ment’ is something that is shipped. However a ‘depart-ment’ is not something that departs! Thus ‘payment’ and ‘shipment’ are semantically transparent, while ‘department’ is semantically opaque. One model of word reading holds that only semantically transparent words are broken down. Other models claim that not only are all complex words —both transparent and opaque—decomposed, but so are words that are not even really complex but only appear to be, i.e. pseudo-complex words such as ‘mother’. My research examines the circumstances under which we break complex words into their component parts and in this talk I will address how this process may be instantiated in the brain.