The processing interaction of radicals and characters in Chinese word recognition

Date of Completion

January 2006


Language, Linguistics|Psychology, Cognitive




The research reported investigates word recognition in Chinese. A one-character Chinese word is composed of two radicals, each of which typically has an independent (stand-alone) meaning and pronunciation which is very often different from the meaning and pronunciation of the combined radicals, i.e., the word. The central question is whether the stand-alone meaning and pronunciation of radicals affects recognition of the word itself. Thus, the issue is whether or not recognition of the word is holistic, a product of the combined orthography of both radicals and not dependent on the phonology or semantics of the radicals themselves. While some pivotal studies of radicals in Chinese word recognition are informative (e.g., Feldman & Siok, 1999), they have not been explicitly asked in a word recognition framework nor have they used radicals themselves as explicit probes or targets. ^ Two experiments employed the same-different task in which participants judged whether a prime was the same phonetically (Experiment 1) or semantically (Experiment 2) as a specific radical within a two-radical (i.e., one character) printed word. The results of Experiment I indicated that a judgment of the prime and the semantic radical (the left radical) was affected by the semantic transparency between the semantic radical and the meaning of the whole word. A semantic relation between radical and word was facilitative. Similarly, in Experiment 2, a judgment about the prime and the phonetic radical (the right radical) was affected by the similarity of the phonology between that radical and the word. However, in the latter, an interference effect was found; characters with phonologically consistent phonetic radicals (i.e., the radical sounded similar to the word) slowed judgments---compared to characters with phonologically inconsistent radicals. Both sets of findings indicate that both radical information and word information were activated. However, when using a conventional lexical decision task with no priming (Experiments 3 and 4), only an effect of phonological consistency was observed. ^ These findings demonstrate interactive effects of semantic and phonologic information at both the radical and character levels. The evidence suggests that theories of Chinese reading need to take into account interactive processing between character and radicals. ^