Semantic Radical Activation in Chinese Phonogram Recognition: Evidence from Event-Related Potential Recording

Yun Zou, Yiu Kei Tsang*, Yan Wu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Some previous studies suggested that semantic radicals are activated during Chinese character recognition. However, many details about semantic radical processing remain unresolved. This study examines an often-overlooked factor, namely the “character status” of the semantic radicals. To be specific, some semantic radicals are themselves stand-alone characters (e.g., “口” in “咱”), while others are not (e.g., “亻” in “仿”). A masked priming character decision experiment with event-related potential (ERP) recording was conducted to compare the processing of these two types of radicals. Results showed that character semantic radicals elicited earlier onset, but less widely distributed, P200 than non-character semantic radicals (150 ms vs. 200 ms). Character radicals also elicited a statistically significant N400 earlier and with broader scalp distribution than non-character radicals (300 ms vs. 350 ms). Finally, only the character semantic radicals showed an effect on late positive complex (LPC). The differences in priming effects suggested that character and non-character semantic radicals are processed differently. The implication of the study was discussed with reference to the hierarchical model of Chinese character recognition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-34
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

User-Defined Keywords

  • character recognition
  • Chinese
  • event-related potentials
  • radical processing


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