Phonology matters: The phonological frequency effect in written Chinese


  • Ziegler J
  • Tan Lh
  • Perry C
  • Montant M

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Does phonology play a role in silent reading? This issue was addressed in Chinese. Phonology effects are less expected in Chinese than in alphabetical languages like English because the basic units of written Chinese (the characters) map directly into units of meaning (morphemes). This linguistic property gave rise to the view that phonology could be bypassed altogether in Chinese. The present study, however, shows that this is not the case. We report two experiments that demonstrate pure phonological frequency effects in processing written Chinese. Characters with a high phonological frequency were processed faster than characters with a low phonological; frequency, despite the fact that the characters were matched on orthographic (printed) frequency. The present research points to a universal phonological principle according to which phonological information is routinely activated as a part of word identification. The research further suggests that part of the classic word-frequency effect may be phonological.

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