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How polysyllabic English words are analyzed in silent reading was examined in three experiments by comparing lexical decision responses to words physically split on the screen. The gap was compatible either with the Maximal Onset Principle or the Maximal Coda Principle. The former corresponds to the spoken syllable (e.g., ca det), except when the word has a stressed short first vowel (e.g., ra dish), while the reverse is true for the latter (giving cad et and rad ish). Native English speakers demonstrated a general preference for the Max Coda analysis and a correlation with reading ability when such an analysis did not correspond with the spoken syllable. Native Japanese speakers, on the other hand, showed a Max Onset preference regardless of the type of word, while native Mandarin Chinese speakers showed no preference at all. It is concluded that a maximization of the coda is the optimal representation of polysyllabic words in English and that poorer native readers are more influenced by phonology than are better readers. The way that nonnative readers mentally represent polysyllabic English words is affected by the way such words are structured in their native language, which may not lead to optimal English processing.