Semantic and syntactic constraints in resolving homography: a developmental study in Hebrew

Amalia Bar-On*, Tal Oron, Orna Peleg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Effects of semantic versus syntactic constraints on resolution of Hebrew heterophonic-homographic words were examined at three reading skill levels. Fourth-and sixth-grade students and a group of adults read aloud sentences containing two types of heterophonic-homographs: noun–noun (e.g., BYCH ביצה is read as beitsa ‘egg’ and bitsa ‘swamp’) and noun–verb (e.g., GZR גזר is read as gezer ‘carrot’ and gazar ‘(he) cut’). Dominant and less-dominant alternatives were identified for each homograph and the alternatives were embedded in two sentences biased semantically towards noun–noun homographs and syntactically towards noun–verb homograph. The reading accuracy and correction results clearly showed a greater effect for syntactic context than for semantic context. For noun–noun words, the dominance effect appeared among the three study groups, though accuracy of reading the less-dominant meaning increased with age, indicating greater reliance on context. For noun–verb words, a small difference between the two meanings was found in the younger group only. We concluded that in resolving Hebrew heterophonic-homographic words, syntactic constraints are sufficient for accurate reading while semantic information is less efficient. The results are discussed in the context of other languages and the unique typology of the Hebrew orthography.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2103-2126
Number of pages24
JournalReading and Writing
Volume34
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2021

Keywords

  • Hebrew orthography
  • Heterophonic-homographic words
  • Lexical ambiguity
  • Semantic context
  • Syntactic context

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