Shared or separated representations for letters with diacritics?
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Description: PUBLISHED STUDY. Understanding the front end of visual word recognition requires to identify the processes by which letters are identified. Since most of the work on letter recognition has been conducted in English, letter perception modeling has been limited to the 26 letters of the Latin alphabet. However, many writing systems include letters with diacritic marks that are variants of one of the basic letters. In the present study, we examined whether diacritic letters are a mere variant of their base letter and thus share the same abstract representation or whether they function as separate elements as any other letters and thus have separated representations. In Experiments 1 and 2, participants performed an alphabetical decision task combined with masked priming. Target letters were preceded with the same letter (e.g., a-A), with a diacritic letter (e.g., â-A) or with an unrelated letter (e.g., z-A). Results showed that primes sharing nominal identity (e.g., a) facilitates target processing compared to the unrelated prime (e.g., z) but primes included a diacritic mark (e.g., â) did not, reaction times being similar to the unrelated priming condition. In Experiment 3, we replicated these results in a lexical decision task. Overall, this demonstrates that as long as diacritics are used in scripts to distinguish between lexical entries, diacritic letters are not mere variants of their base letters, but constitute unitary elements of the script in their own right, with diacritics contributing to the overall visual shape of letters.