No AccessJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing ResearchResearch Note14 Sep 2021

Comprehension of Morse Code Predicted by Item Recall From Short-Term Memory


    Morse code as a form of communication became widely used for telegraphy, radio and maritime communication, and military operations, and remains popular with ham radio operators. Some skilled users of Morse code are able to comprehend a full sentence as they listen to it, while others must first transcribe the sentence into its written letter sequence. Morse thus provides an interesting opportunity to examine comprehension differences in the context of skilled acoustic perception. Measures of comprehension and short-term memory show a strong correlation across multiple forms of communication. This study tests whether this relationship holds for Morse and investigates its underlying basis. Our analyses examine Morse and speech immediate serial recall, focusing on established markers of echoic storage, phonological-articulatory coding, and lexical-semantic support. We show a relationship between Morse short-term memory and Morse comprehension that is not explained by Morse perceptual fluency. In addition, we find that poorer serial recall for Morse compared to speech is primarily due to poorer item memory for Morse, indicating differences in lexical-semantic support. Interestingly, individual differences in speech item memory are also predictive of individual differences in Morse comprehension.


    We point to a psycholinguistic framework to account for these results, concluding that Morse functions like “reading for the ears” (Maier et al., 2004) and that underlying differences in the integration of phonological and lexical-semantic knowledge impact both short-term memory and comprehension. The results provide insight into individual differences in the comprehension of degraded speech and strategies that build comprehension through listening experience.

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