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Article

Multiple routes for compound word processing in the brain: Evidence from EEG.

Brain and Language. 2013. Vol. 126. No. 2. P. 217-229.
MacGregor L. J., Shtyrov Y.

Are compound words represented as unitary lexical units, or as individual constituents that are processed combinatorially? We investigated the neuro-cognitive processing of compounds using EEG and a passive-listening oddball design in which lexical access and combinatorial processing elicit dissociating Mismatch Negativity (MMN) brain-response patterns. MMN amplitude varied with compound frequency and semantic transparency (the clarity of the relationship between compound and constituent meanings). Opaque compounds elicited an enhanced 'lexical' MMN, reflecting stronger lexical representations, to high- vs. low-frequency compounds. Transparent compounds showed no frequency effect, nor differed to pseudo-compounds, reflecting the combination of a reduced 'syntactic' MMN indexing combinatorial links, and an enhanced 'lexical' MMN for real-word compounds compared to pseudo-compounds. We argue that transparent compounds are processed combinatorially alongside parallel lexical access of the whole-form representation, but whole-form access is the dominant mechanism for opaque compounds, particularly those of high-frequency. Results support a flexible dual-route account of compound processing.