The mental representation of inflected words:
An experimental study of adjectives and verbs in German

Harald Clahsen, Sonja Eisenbeiss, Meike Hadler, and Ingrid Sonnenstuhl

Language 77 (2001), 488-521

  This paper investigates how morphological relationships between inflected word forms are represented in the mental lexicon focusing on paradigmatic relations between regularly inflected word forms and relationships between different stem forms of the same lexeme. We present results from a series of psycholinguistic experiments investigating German adjectives (which are inflected for case, number, and gender) and the so-called strong verbs of German which have different stem forms when inflected for person, number, tense or mood. Evidence from three lexical decision experiments indicates that regular affixes are stripped off from their stems for processing purposes. It will be shown that this holds for both unmarked and marked stem forms. In another set of experiments, we found priming effects between different paradigmatically related affixes and between different stem forms of the same lexeme.
We will show that associative models of inflection do not capture these findings. Instead, we will explain our results in terms of combinatorial models of inflection in which regular affixes are represented in inflectional paradigms and stem variants are represented in structured lexical entries. We will also argue that the morpho-syntactic features of stems and affixes form abstract underspecified entries. The experimental results indicate that the human language processor makes use of these representations.