Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Differences between Chinese Morphosyllabic and German Alphabetic Readers in the Stroop Interference Effect

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Differences between Chinese Morphosyllabic and German Alphabetic Readers in the Stroop Interference Effect

Article excerpt

The goal of our study was to localize the source of the stronger Stroop interference effect found in morphosyllabic readers as compared with alphabetic readers. Twenty-three Chinese and 24 German undergraduate students were tested in a Stroop paradigm with the following stimuli: color patches, color-neutral words (e.g., friend printed in yellow), incongruent color-associated words (e.g., blood printed in blue), and incongruent color words (e.g., yellow printed in blue). Results revealed no differences in German and Chinese students' response times to color patches. Chinese participants, however, showed longer color naming latencies for neutral words as well as for color words and color-related words. No differences between German and Chinese participants were found when print color latencies for neutral words were subtracted from print color latencies for color words and color-related words. This result does not support theories which suggest that for morphosyllabic readers there is a direct route from orthography to the semantics of a word. We rather argue, with reference to dual route models of reading, that access from print to phonology is faster for morphosyllabic than for alphabetic readers, and therefore interference caused by conflicting phonologies of color name and written word will be stronger in Chinese readers than in German readers.

In recent decades, extensive research has addressed the issue of how skilled readers exposed to a written word activate orthographic, phonological, and semantic information stored in the mental lexicon. In comparison with the amount of studies on reading alphabetic scripts, little research has been devoted to character recognition in morphosyllabic writing systems such as Chinese or Japanese Kanji. Given the fundamental differences in the way alphabetic and morphosyllabic writing systems are constructed, it seems obvious that there should also be fundamental differences in the cognitive processes involved in reading both types of script.

Alphabetic scripts consist of about 30 letters that directly represent phonological information. In order to become literate, one has to master grapheme-phoneme conversion rules and to learn about exceptions to these rules for certain words. Morphosyllabic writing systems, in contrast, are composed of several thousand characters, most of them visually complex, each of which represents not a phoneme, but a morpheme. In the case of Chinese, about 90% of the characters consist of two components: The radical gives a clue to meaning, and the phonetic gives a clue to pronunciation. However, because of historical changes in language, pronunciations of only about one third of all composed characters are still guided by their phonetics (Hoosain, 1991). The characters represent meaningful units, but their assignation to a specific pronunciation seems mostly arbitrary and will vary between dialects and even languages-for example, between Mandarin and Cantonese. Characters are learned in a more holistic way, without systematic instruction in the use of phonological information (Shu & Anderson, 1997). Chen (1987) found that the whole character, rather than its strokes and radicals, is the basic unit in processing written Chinese.

On the basis of these characteristics of morphosyllabic scripts, the so-called direct-access hypothesis suggests that skilled readers activate the meaning of a written word through a direct route from an orthographic to a semantic entry in the mental lexicon, bypassing phonological information (Taft & van Graan, 1998). Direct semantic access can also be expected to gain priority over phonological mediation in reading morphosyllabic script because of the ambiguity of phonological information in the Chinese language. The number of available written characters is much larger than the number of different tone syllables used in spoken Chinese. Therefore, many orthographically and semantically dissimilar characters share the same pronunciation, creating a high degree of homophony. …

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