The hyphen as a segmentation cue in triconstituent compound processing: It’s getting better all the time
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Inserting a hyphen in Dutch and Finnish compounds is most often illegal given spelling conventions. However, the current two eye movement experiments on triconstituent Dutch compounds like voetbalbond"footballassociation" (Experiment 1) and triconstituent Finnish compounds like lentokenttätaksi"airporttaxi" (Experiment 2) show that inserting a hyphen at constituent boundaries does not have to be detrimental to compound processing. In fact, when hyphens were inserted at the major constituent boundary (voetbal-bond"football-association"; lentokenttä-taksi"airport-taxi"), processing of the first part (voetbal"football"; lentokenttä"airport") turns out to be faster when it is followed by a hyphen than when it is legally concatenated. Inserting a hyphen caused a delay in later eye movement measures, which is probably due to the illegality of inserting hyphens in normally concatenated compounds. However, in both Dutch and Finnish we found a learning effect in the course of the experiment, such that by the end of the experiments hyphenated compounds are read faster than in the beginning of the experiment. By the end of the experiment, compounds with a hyphen at the major constituent boundary were actually processed equally fast as (Dutch) or even faster than (Finnish) their concatenated counterparts. In contrast, hyphenation at the minor constituent boundary (voet-balbond"foot-ballassociation"; lento-kenttätaksi"air-porttaxi") was detrimental to compound processing speed throughout the experiment. The results imply that the hyphen may be an efficient segmentation cue and that spelling illegalities can be overcome easily, as long as they make sense.
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