Suffix interference in Russian

Lindy Comstock


The phenomenon of “suffix interference” has been used as evidence for a distinction between inflectional and derivational processes (e.g. Pinker & Prince, 1988; Pinker, 1999; Pinker & Ullman, 2002). Yet much of the work on affix priming exists in English, a morphologically poor language, and suffix interference appears inconsistently in cross-linguistic data. The greater reliance on morphological complexity in Russian, and its use of an infinitival suffix and aspectual affixes that may bridge the distinction between traditional definitions of inflectional and derivational word forms, call into question how generalizable the original findings on suffix interference may be for morphologically-complex languages. Investigating these questions, this paper provides unexpected findings: suffix interference is absent in Russian, inflectional suffixes reveal significantly more robust priming effects, and the infinitival suffix is best considered a special case of affix priming, failing to pattern with either inflectional or derivational suffixes. Thus, Russian appears to defy the assumption that inflections are “stripped” during morphological parsing; instead, verbal inflections prove the greatest facilitators of morphological priming. A linear mixed effects model indicates these effects cannot be explained by frequency alone.


morphological priming; inflectional processing; Russian; suffix interference; lexical decision

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