Pre-lexical phonological processing in reading Chinese characters: An ERP study

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12 Citations (Scopus)


Sinograms (i.e., Chinese characters) are usually composed of radicals which do not correspond to phonemes; instead, some radicals can occur as freestanding sinograms and have their own pronunciations. Previous research has demonstrated that the pronunciations of bothradicals and sinograms are activated in reading low-frequency sinograms. However, the relative timing of activation between sinogram pronunciation and radical pronunciation has not been addressed. We examine this issue by comparing the interference effects exerted by two types of primes on the targets in an event-related potential (ERP) experiment: RADICAL-RELATED primes, which are homophonic with a radical embedded in the targets; and SINOGRAM-RELATED primes, which are homophonic with the targets. A radical interference effect is found for N170, P200 and N400 responses, whereas a sinogram interference effect is found only forN400. Our findings demonstrate that the pronunciations of radicals are activated pre-lexically, i.e., prior to those of their host sinograms. The role of this early sub-lexical phonology is discussed within an interactive activation framework, wherein two types of pronunciations-(1) the radical pronunciations and (2) the set of pronunciations associated with the sinogram's orthographical neighbors-are both present and operate interactively.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-26
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neurolinguistics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • Chinese characters
  • N170
  • N400
  • P200
  • Pre-lexical phonology
  • Radicals

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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