To compound is to divide: The grammatical class effect of morphemes in reading Chinese

To compound is to divide: The grammatical class effect of morphemes in reading Chinese

First Author: Quansheng Xia -- Nankai Univerisity/UCLA
Additional authors/chairs: 
Tianlin Wang; Miao Yu
Keywords: Reading Chinese, Noun-verb dissociation, Morpheme, Semantic differences
Abstract / Summary: 

Purpose. Research regarding the dissociation between nouns and verbs has mostly relied on alphabetic languages (Crepaldi et al., 2011; Vigliocco et al., 2011). It is unclear if readers of languages that utilize a vastly different writing system would exhibit the same patterns. The present study investigates at which level the dissociation between nouns and verbs occurs in reading Chinese.

Method. We first used a grammatical class judgment task to examine the accessibility of bigram morphological compounds. We manipulated the first morpheme in each bigram to be either a nominal or a verbal morpheme (i.e., [NN]N or [VN]N; e.g., 纸牌 paper-card or 选票 vote-ticket) while keeping the grammatical class of the second morpheme nominal. We then tested the effect of context by providing a carrier phrase that preceded each target compound. The phrase primed a nominal morpheme both semantically and syntactically. (e.g.,一张 a sheet of primes “paper” in [NN]N 纸牌 paper-card).

Results. Latencies were significantly faster for [NN]N than [VN]N. Participants were also faster at accepting compound nouns [NN]N when the preceding context primed a nominal morpheme both semantically and syntactically.

Conclusions. Results indicate that the dissociation between nouns and verbs in reading Chinese compounds exists at the morphemic level, such that the first morpheme in the bigram compound is primed by its preceding context. We suggest that nominal and verbal morphemes are represented and processed semantically rather than syntactically in reading Chinese.