Early Form-Based Morphological Decomposition in Tagalog: MEG Evidence from Reduplication, Infixation, and Circumfixation

Samantha Wray, Linnaea Stockall, Alec Marantz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Neuro-and psycholinguistic experimentation supports the early decomposition of morphologically complex words within the ventral processing stream, which MEG has localized to the M170 response in the (left) visual word form area ( VWFA). Decomposition into an exhaustive parse of visual morpheme forms extends beyond words like farmer to those imitating complexity (e.g., brother; Lewis et al., 2011), and to “unique” stems occurring in only one word but following the syntax and semantics of their affix (e.g., vulnerable; Gwilliams & Marantz, 2018). Evidence comes primarily from suffixation; other morphological processes have been under-investigated. This study explores circumfixation, infixation, and reduplication in Tagalog. In addition to investigating whether these are parsed like suffixation, we address an outstanding question concerning semantically empty morphemes. Some words in Tagalog resemble English winter as decomposition is not supported (wint-er); these apparently reduplicated pseudoreduplicates lack the syntactic and semantic features of reduplicated forms. However, unlike winter, these words exhibit phonological behavior predicted only if they involve a reduplicating morpheme. If these are decomposed, this provides evidence that words are analyzed as complex, like English vulnerable, when the grammar demands it. In a lexical decision task with MEG, we find that VWFA activity correlates with stem:word transition probability for circumfixed, infixed, and reduplicated words. Furthermore, a Bayesian analysis suggests that pseudoreduplicates with reduplicate-like phonology are also decomposed; other pseudoreduplicates are not. These findings are consistent with an interpretation that decomposition is modulated by phonology in addition to syntax and semantics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)235-255
Number of pages21
JournalNeurobiology of Language
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 16 2022


  • M170
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Morphology
  • Reduplication
  • Tagalog
  • Visual word recognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Linguistics and Language
  • Neurology


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