Reading derived words by Italian children with and without dyslexia: The effect of root length

Cristina Burani*, Stefania Marcolini, Daniela Traficante, Pierluigi Zoccolotti

*Corresponding author

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Children with dyslexia are extremely slow at reading long words but they are faster with stimuli composed of roots and derivational suffixes (e.g., CASSIERE, ‘cashier’) than stimuli not decomposable in morphemes (e.g., CAMMELLO, ‘camel’). The present study assessed whether root length modulates children’s morphological processing. For typically developing readers, root activation was expected to be higher for longer than shorter roots because longer roots are more informative access units than shorter ones. By contrast, readers with dyslexia were not expected to be facilitated by longer roots because these roots might exceed dyslexics’ processing capacities. Two groups of Italian 6th graders, with and without dyslexia, read aloud low-frequency derived words, with familiar roots and suffixes. Word reaction times (RTs) and mispronunciations were recorded. Linear mixed-effects regression analyses on RTs showed the inhibitory effect of word length and the facilitating effect of root frequency for both children with and without dyslexia. Root length predicted RTs of typically developing readers only, with faster RTs for longer roots, over and above the inhibitory effect of word length. Furthermore, typically developing children had faster RTs on words with more frequent suffixes while children with dyslexia were faster when roots had a small family size. Generalized linear regression analyses on accuracy showed facilitating effects of word frequency and suffix frequency, for both groups. The large word length effect on latencies confirmed laborious whole-word processing in children when reading low-frequency derived words. The absence of a word frequency effect along with the facilitating effect of root frequency indicated morphemic processing in all readers. The reversed root length effect in typically developing readers pointed to a stronger activation for longer roots in keeping with the idea that these represent particularly informative units for word decoding. For readers with dyslexia the facilitating effect of root frequency (not modulated by root length) confirmed a pervasive benefit of root activation while the lack of root length modulation indicated that the longest roots were for them too large units to be processed within a single fixation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • dyslexia
  • orthographic depth
  • reading


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