The influence of word function in the missing-letter effect: further evidence from French.
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When asked to detect target letters while reading continuous text, subjects miss more letters in highly common function words than in less common content words. This is known as the missing-letter effect. According to the structural account, the higher omission rates for frequent function words are attributable to their role in supporting the extraction of phrase structure, after which they become lost in the transition from structure to meaning. This implies that word function in and of itself should affect letter detection accuracy. This issue was examined in four experiments while controlling for a number of confounded factors associated with another influential model: the unitization account. The first experiment extended the missing-letter effect to the French language. The second showed that letter detection is influenced by slight variations in the function assumed by the same word, such as when it is used as a definite article as opposed to a pronoun. This effect was observed even when the frequency of the orthographic pattern and the syllable stress patterns were controlled. In the last two experiments, a control was added for another factor: frequency of word meaning. The results indicate that word function contributes to the missing-letter effect over and above what is contributed by frequency of word meaning.
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