Perception of Wordlikeness: Effects of Segment Probability and Length on the Processing of Nonwords

Stefan A. Frisch, Nathan R. Large, David B. Pisoni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

141 Scopus citations


A probabilistic phonotactic grammar based on the probabilities of the constituents contained in a dictionary of English was used to generate multisyllabic nonwords. English-speaking listeners evaluated the wordlikeness of these patterns. Wordlikeness ratings were higher for nonwords containing high-probability constituents and were also higher for nonwords with fewer syllables. Differences in the processing of these same nonwords that partially reflected their perceived wordlikeness were also found in a recognition memory task. Nonwords with higher probability constituents yielded better recognition memory performance, suggesting that participants were able to use their knowledge of frequently occurring lexical patterns to improve recognition. These results suggest that lexical patterns provide the foundation of an emergent phonological competence used to process nonwords in both linguistic and metalinguistic tasks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)481-496
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2000


  • Nonwords
  • Phonotactics
  • Recognition memory
  • Wordlikeness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language

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