Morphophonological activation in Chinese word recognition: Evidence from heteronymic characters

Yiu Kei Tsang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The role of morphophonology during Chinese visual word recognition was investigated in three masked priming lexical decision experiments. The primes and targets were Cantonese Chinese bimorphemic words. In Chinese, most characters correspond to morphemes, but sometimes the mapping between character and morpheme is not one-to-one. Specifically, some characters are heteronymic, which had one visual form associated with multiple pronunciations and meanings (e.g., “長” is pronounced as/coeng4/and/zoeng2/in Cantonese, which means “long” and “senior”, respectively). In Experiment 1, facilitative priming was found when the primes and targets shared heteronymic characters of identical (e.g., “長遠-long term” /coeng4jyun5/and “長短-length” /coeng4dyun2/), but not a different, pronunciation (e.g., “長官-senior official” /zoeng2gun1/). Sharing word-level phonology only (e.g., “場景-scene” /coeng4ging2/) had no effects. Experiment 2 replicated Experiment 1, and further indicated that the effects could not be attributed to sharing word-level meanings (e.g., “即時-immediate” /zik1si4/). Experiment 3 compared the priming effects produced by the two alternative pronunciations of the heteronymic characters. The results showed that the strength of priming was statistically comparable in the two pronunciation-congruent conditions. Together, this study provided evidence that morphophonology was activated to facilitate the ambiguity resolution of heteronymic characters. The lemma model was modified to accommodate the results.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)240-270
Number of pages31
JournalMental Lexicon
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

User-Defined Keywords

  • Cantonese
  • Chinese
  • Heteronymic morphemes
  • Morpho-phonology
  • Morphological processing
  • Visual word recognition


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