The flexibility of letter-position flexibility: Evidence from eye movements in reading hebrew

Hadas Velan*, Avital Deutsch, Ram Frost

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Hebrew provides an intriguing contrast to European languages. On the one hand, like any European language, it has an alphabetic script. On the other hand, being a Semitic language, it differs in the structure of base words. By monitoring eye movements, we examined the time-course of processing letter transpositions in Hebrew and assessed their impact on reading different types of Hebrew words that differ in their internal structure. We found that letter transposition resulted in dramatic reading costs for words with Semitic word structure, and much smaller costs for non-Semitic words. Moreover, the strongest impact of transposition occurred where root-letter transposition resulted in a pseudo-root, where significant interference emerged already in first fixation duration. Our findings thus suggest that Hebrew readers differentiate between Semitic and non-Semitic forms already at first fixation, at the early phase of word recognition. Moreover, letters are differentially processed across the visual array, given their morphological structure and their contribution to recovering semantic meaning. We conclude that flexibility or rigidity in encoding letter position is determined by cues regarding the internal structure of printed words.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1143-1152
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2013


  • Hebrew
  • Letter position coding
  • Morphology
  • TL
  • Word recognition


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