Reading and Writing

, Volume 31, Issue 5, pp 1209–1229 | Cite as

The role of syllables in intermediate-depth stress-timed languages: masked priming evidence in European Portuguese

  • Ana Duarte Campos
  • Helena Mendes Oliveira
  • Ana Paula Soares


The role of syllables as a sublexical unit in visual word recognition and reading is well established in deep and shallow syllable-timed languages such as French and Spanish, respectively. However, its role in intermediate stress-timed languages remains unclear. This paper aims to overcome this gap by studying for the first time the role of syllables at early stages of visual word recognition in Portuguese (European), a language where the spelling-sound correspondences are less transparent than Spanish but less opaque than French, and also with fuzzier syllabic boundaries than both languages. To that purpose, 36 native speakers of Portuguese performed a lexical decision task combined with a masked priming paradigm. Ninety-six dissyllabic Portuguese target words, and 96 nonwords, half of which with a CV (ru.mor [rumor]) and the other half with a CVC first-syllable structure (forno [oven]), were preceded by a briefly presented nonword prime (50 ms) that could be syllable congruent (e.g., ru.mis-RU.MOR,, syllable incongruent (e.g.,, fo.rou-FOR.NO), or unrelated (e.g., ca.fas-RU.MOR, with the targets. Results were clear-cut and showed a facilitative syllabic priming effect in Portuguese, as target words preceded by syllable congruent primes were recognized faster and more accurately than when preceded either by incongruent or unrelated primes, although the effect was restricted to CV words. For nonwords there were no signs of syllabic effects. The findings are discussed attending to the characteristics of the Portuguese language and to current models of visual word recognition.


Syllable Visual word recognition Priming Sublexical unit 



This study was conducted at Psychology Research Centre (UID/PSI/01662/2013), University of Minho, and supported by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology and the Portuguese Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education through national funds and co-financed by FEDER through COMPETE2020 under the PT2020 Partnership Agreement (POCI-01-0145-FEDER-007653).


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Ana Duarte Campos
    • 1
  • Helena Mendes Oliveira
    • 1
  • Ana Paula Soares
    • 1
  1. 1.Human Cognition Lab, CIPsi, School of PsychologyUniversity of MinhoBragaPortugal

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