The impact of capitalized German words on lexical access

Melanie Labusch, Sonja A. Kotz, Manuel Perea*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Leading models of visual word recognition assume that the process of word identification is driven by abstract, case-invariant units (e.g., table and TABLE activate the same abstract representation). But do these models need to be modified to meet nuances of orthography as in German, where the first letter of common nouns is capitalized (e.g., Buch [book] and Hund [dog], but blau [blue])? To examine the role of initial capitalization of German words in lexical access, we chose a semantic categorization task ("is the word an animal name?"). In Experiment 1, we compared German words in all-lowercase vs. initial capitalization (hund, buch, blau vs. Hund, Buch, Blau). Results showed faster responses for animal nouns with initial capitalization (Hund < hund) and faster responses for lowercase non-nouns (blau < Blau). Surprisingly, we found faster responses for lowercase non-animal nouns (buch < Buch). As the latter difference could derive from task demands (i.e., buch does not follow German orthographic rules and requires a "no" response), we replaced the all-lowercase format with an orthographically legal all-uppercase format in Experiment 2. Results showed an advantage for all nouns with initial capitalization (Hund < HUND and Buch < BUCH). These findings clearly show that initial capitalization in German words constitutes an essential part of the words' representations and is used during lexical access. Thus, models of visual word recognition, primarily focused on English orthography, should be expanded to the idiosyncrasies of other Latin-based orthographies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)891-902
Number of pages12
JournalPsychological Research
Issue number3
Early online date6 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


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