R. Harald Baayen

Learning from the Bible: computational modelling of the costs of letter transpositions and letter exchanges in reading Classical Hebrew and Modern English

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Letter transpositions are relatively harmless for reading English and other Indo-European languages with an alphabetic script, but severely disrupt comprehension in Hebrew. Furthermore, masked orthographic priming does not produce facilitation as in English (Frost, 2012). This simulation study compares the orthographic processing costs of letter transpositions and of letter exchanges for Modern English and Classical Hebrew, using the framework of naïve discriminative learning (Baayen et al., 2011). The greater disruption of transpositions for Hebrew as compared to English is correctly replicated by the model, as is the relative immunity of loanwords in Hebrew to letter transpositions. Furthermore, the absence of facilitation of form priming in Hebrew is correctly predicted. The results confirm the hypothesis that the distributional statistics of the orthographic cues in the two languages are the crucial factor determining the experimental hallmarks of orthographic processing, as argued by Frost (2012).


  • letter coding
  • lexical access
  • naïve discriminative learning
  • reading


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