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Semantic mediation in word recognition in beginning readers


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Perry, Zoe Monique 2009 , 'Semantic mediation in word recognition in beginning readers', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Substantial controversy has surrounded the premise that semantic information may
make an important contribution to the development and function of fast and efficient
word recognition. This debate has been fuelled by the alternative explanations of
semantic processing offered by the two major models of word recognition (Parallel
Distributed Processing, PDP and Dual Route Cascade, DRC). Whilst some data has
indicated facilitative effects of semantic information for all reading abilities and word
types, other data suggests that these are restricted to people with poor decoding skills
and to conditions where word recognition is more difficult, such as for low frequency
words. Large variation in the age groups used to explore semantic effects has
substantially contributed to the mixed findings in the literature, as have results from
studies examining reading acquisition when compared to studies examining word
recognition processes. The current series of experiments aimed to reconcile these
discrepancies by a) investigating the contribution of specific forms of semantic
information to the word learning of beginning readers and b) examining whether
semantic information affects orthographic and phonological decisions in beginning
In Experiment 1, Grade 1 children (n = 77, Mage= 6 years, 6 months) of
varying decoding abilities were trained to read non-words with support from different
forms of semantic information (high meaning, low meaning, high imageability, low
imageability). The results showed that high meaning stimuli produced an accuracy
advantage over all other semantic stimuli for decoders of good and average ability.
However, poor decoders received equal benefit from high and low meaning stimuli,
with both producing an accuracy advantage over the image stimuli. Although
facilitation effects were evident for reaction time performance overall, these did not
differ as a function of decoding ability. Experiment 2 investigated whether the
facilitative effects of semantics for word learning were also present when this
information was used to prime lexical decisions. New high and low meaning and high
imageability stimuli were developed and the low imageability condition was replaced
with a non-semantic control condition. A new group of Grade 1 readers (n = 61, Mage
= 6 years, 9 months) responded to word and pseudo homophone pairs, preceded by the
presentation of the semantic primes. Semantic facilitation effects were consistent with
those found in Experiment 1, however, these varied between accuracy and reaction
time measures. For good and average decoders, semantic facilitation effects were
restricted to reaction time advantages, whereas poor decoders received a performance
benefit for accuracy only.
Experiment 3 aimed to extend these results by investigating whether semantic
priming effects could also be found for a phonological decision task and whether
performance effects for both tasks differed as a function of word frequency. A new
group of Grade 1 readers (n = 45, Mage= 6 years, 9 months) responded to the lexical
decision task and to a phonological decision task, created by replacing previous words
with pseudoword and pseudohomophone pairs. Sets of high and low frequency words
and associated semantic primes were developed for each task, maintaining meaning
and control conditions only. The results for the lexical task were consistent with those
of Experiment 2 and showed that the contribution of high and low levels of semantic
information differed depending on the frequency of the words presented. Findings for
the phonological task indicated that although performance was not affected by the
frequency manipulation, semantic priming effects for good and average decoders
were similar to those in Experiments 1 and 2. In contrast, performance data failed to
show semantic priming effects for poor decoders.
Overall, the results of these studies suggest that the presentation of meaning
related information can facilitate both word learning and children's ability to
recognise words based on orthographic and phonological knowledge. The semantic
facilitation effects support previous research findings, however, they indicate that the
influence of semantic information can extend to readers of good decoding ability and
the processing of high as well as low frequency words. The findings do not fit neatly
with current models of word recognition, however, they show predominant support
for the PDP model in which semantic processing is integral. The results indicate that
beginning readers could benefit from reading instruction methods that provide
specific semantic information and that optimal results will be achieved when this
information is meaning-based rather than image-based and of a level suitable to the
decoding ability of the reader.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Perry, Zoe Monique
Copyright Holders: The Author
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Copyright 2009 the author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright
owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We
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Additional Information:

Available for use in the Library and copying in accordance with the Copyright Act 1968, as amended. Thesis (PhD)--University of Tasmania, 2009. Includes bibliographical references

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