The time course of orthographic and semantic activation in Chinese character recognition: evidence from an ERP study

Hao Zhang, I. Fan Su, Fei Chen, Manwa L. Ng, Lan Wang, Nan Yan

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


In this investigation, a picture-character matching task using the event-related potential (ERP) technique was conducted to identify the temporal dynamics of orthographic and semantic activation during Chinese character recognition. The ERP results revealed that the impact of orthography occurred early and was long-lasting, whereas the semantic effect was comparatively late. In particular, the orthographic effect exhibited a larger occipital N170, smaller frontal P200, and larger N400 component for characters sharing orthographic information with paired pictures. The observed orthographic effect may reflect the processing of characters shifting from radical-level facilitation at the N170 and P200 to lexical-level competition at the N400. In contrast, a semantic effect was only found at the N400. Additionally, a significant orthography by semantic interaction was found at the N400, reflecting the relevance of orthography during semantic activation in Chinese character recognition which suggested that character meaning could be directly accessed from orthography for skilled readers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)292-309
JournalLanguage, Cognition and Neuroscience
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019


  • Chinese character recognition
  • orthography
  • semantics
  • picture-character matching
  • event-related potential (ERP)
  • the orthographic autonomy hypothesis

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