Shira Tal

Shira Tal

Cognitive Science

Subject: Pre-Lexical Processing of the Passive Voice in Hebrew

Supervisor: Inbal Arnon

Abstract: Human language contains an enormous amount of information at numerous different levels (phonologically, morphologically, semantically, etc.). One of the biggest questions in cognitive language research is how this linguistic knowledge is represented, i.e., what information speakers are sensitive to. According to usage-based approaches to language, human beings learn and process language with domain general learning skills, and are sensitive to recurring structures in all levels of the linguistic environment. Hebrew morphology serves as an interesting case study for this theory. All Hebrew verbs are comprised of seven possible verb templates (Binyanim), that systematically encode information regarding the verb, e.g., voice and verb argument, thereby creating statistical relations between certain forms (e.g., huCCaC) and certain grammatical-semantic functions (e.g., passivity). This study is designed to check whether the mere processing of a verb template's form will create  predictions regarding the information this form carries for the Hebrew speaker. This question was tested with regards to the passive voice: using a masked priming paradigm, unconscious processing of Hebrew verbs was examined, enabling us to check whether Hebrew speakers are sensitive to the passive information encoded in the passive verb patterns based only on their orthographic-phonological characteristics. The findings of the experiments do not allow us to determine whether Hebrew readers are sensitive to this information in early stages of processing. The reasons for this and the possible outcomes of the results on the existing theories of language processing are discussed.