Processing Ambiguous Morphemes in Chinese Compound Word Recognition: Behavioral and ERP Evidence

Yan Wu, Rujun Duan, Simin Zhao, Yiu Kei TSANG*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


This study examined the processing of ambiguous morphemes in Chinese word recognition with a masked priming lexical decision task. Both behavioral and event-related potential (ERP) were recorded. All targets were bimorphemic compound words that contained ambiguous morphemes as the first morphemes. The ambiguous morphemes either took the dominant or subordinate interpretation, depending on the second morphemes. The prime words contained the same ambiguous morphemes in the dominant interpretation, the subordinate interpretation, or were unrelated to the targets. Analyses on response times revealed significant facilitative priming whenever primes and targets shared morphemes, but the strength of facilitation was stronger when the morpheme meanings were consistent. A similar pattern was found in the analyses of N400 (300–500 ms after target onset) amplitudes. However, in the earlier N250 time window (200–300 ms after target onset), only the dominant targets, but not the subordinate ones, were primed by the morpheme-sharing primes. More importantly, the strength of facilitation was similar between the dominant and subordinate primes. These results have two implications to the processing of ambiguous morphemes during Chinese compound word recognition. First, the morpheme meanings could be activated rapidly. Second, the more frequently used dominant meanings could be activated more easily than the less frequently used subordinate meanings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)249-260
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2020

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

User-Defined Keywords

  • Chinese word recognition
  • ERP
  • morphemic ambiguity
  • morpho-semantics
  • morphological processing


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