Semantic radical transparency effect in Chinese character writing – Preliminary findings from a delayed copying task

Sin-Man, Rachel Hon, Tsz Ying Chan, Kai Yan Lau

Research output: Unpublished conference presentation (presented paper, abstract, poster)Conference presentation (not published in journal/proceeding/book)Academic researchpeer-review


Background: Writing is critical to childhood development for success in school and in life. It further carries social and emotional benefits by helping children process feelings and enhance memory and creativity, while building literacy and strengthening communication skills. In the Hong Kong mainstream education system, Chinese writing is a major means of communication in academic contexts, where traditional Chinese characters are used in the writing system, including but not limited to completing assignments and taking examinations. Learning to write Chinese characters is complicated by the high visual complexity of Chinese characters given the average number of strokes of characters is high. Over 80% of the characters are phonetic compounds consisting of phonetic and semantic radicals that give clues to phonological and semantic information respectively. Hence, it is important for children to learn and apply the functions of radicals when they write, which will foster better organized orthographic lexicon and consequently more efficient retrieval in the encoding process. The literature suggested the importance of semantic radicals, but with surprisingly very limited evidence. Therefore, this study investigates the role of semantic radicals in the writing process among typical individuals.
Methods: A delayed copying task using a digitizer with a stylus pen was conducted. Twenty undergraduate students who are native Cantonese speakers born and have completed mainstream compulsory education in Hong Kong were recruited to participate in the delayed copying task, where they were told to copy each target character that was shown briefly in each trial. Forty pairs of phonetic compound characters with definable transparency and semantic radicals occurring in either the left or the top positions were selected as stimuli. Each pair of characters share the same semantic radical, one being semantically transparent and the other one semantically opaque, and are matched within a similar range of character frequency and age of acquisition. The writing process, the response time (RT) and the final written output were obtained.
Results: The results of the linear mixed effect models showed faster RT observed in later testing trials (-0.62±0.11), suggesting that the participants were more familiar with the experiment procedures in the later phase. The significance of semantic radical transparency effect was revealed with the evidence that the RT of transparent items was significantly shorter than that of opaque items in the low character frequency condition (interaction of semantic transparency/character frequency: 39.27±14.66). Interestingly, shorter RT was associated with irregular but not regular characters (29.43±11.76). The result supports that an interactive semantic and orthographic processing was involved in the central processing in the delayed Chinese character copying task. Clinical implications on planning assessment and treatment in terms of the task design and controlling factors for school age children with or without writing disorders will be elaborated in the conference.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022
EventAsia Pacific Society of Speech Language and Hearing - Online Symposium
Duration: 29 Oct 202230 Oct 2022


Forum/SymposiumAsia Pacific Society of Speech Language and Hearing


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