A Psycholinguistic Investigation of the Verbal Morphology of Maltese
AuthorTwist, Alina Evelyn
AdvisorUssishkin, Adam P.
Committee ChairUssishkin, Adam P.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThis dissertation focuses on the unique aspects of Maltese morphology brought about by its genetic and geographic history. The experiments conducted and described here build on past research in Indo-European languages and new research in other Semitic languages to determine how different word formation systems function. Applying experimental techniques to the study of Maltese is crucial for two reasons. First, though Maltese is a Semitic language, recent extensive contact with English has greatly impacted its vocabulary and the structure of its verbs. Though the effects of persistent language contact is pervasive, clear and systematic differences may be observed between native Semitic verbs and those borrowed from English. Secondly, unlike other Semitic languages, the Maltese writing system uses the Roman alphabet. This allows for tests that require the reading of written stimuli to be performed in the same writing system as previous studies in Indo-European languages, eliminating a number of confounding factors.A masked priming experiment asked Maltese speakers to judge whether or not test items were words of their language. The test items included real and nonce verbs of both Semitic and English origin. Accuracy rates and reaction time were recorded and compared across speakers. The results of this experiment support the psychological salience of the consonantal root as a unit of lexical organization.An elicitation experiment asked native speakers of Maltese to provide a verb form that corresponded to a given noun or adjective. The test items were nouns of Semitic and English origin and non-words constructed to resemble such nouns. Responses were broadly transcribed and analyzed for their similarity to the expected patterns. The results show that speakers are able to use two morphological strategies to form new words. The factors affecting the choice between morphological systems include linguistic structure and social variables.Collectively, this pair of experiments indicate that the consonantal root is a viable morphological and psychological unit of lexical organization, supporting a search-based approach to lexical access. Furthermore, speakers are able to form new words on the basis of whole words, showing that this level of organization must also be present to facilitate lexical access.