ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

›› 2009, Vol. 41 ›› Issue (02): 114-126.

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Asymmetry in Naming and Categorizing of Chinese Words and Pictures: Role of Semantic Radicals

FANG Yan-Hong;ZHANG Ji-Jia   

  1. Center for Psychological Application, South China Normal University, Guangzhou 510631, China
  • Received:2007-11-30 Revised:1900-01-01 Published:2009-02-28 Online:2009-02-28
  • Contact: ZHANG Ji-Jia

Abstract: The four different cognitive processes of word-reading, word-categorizing, picture-naming and picture-categorizing imply different mental mechanisms and are widely used in the field of perception, memory and language studies. A large body of research has examined the characteristics of naming and categorizing of words and pictures in alphabetic languages. They showed that word-reading was the fastest of all, followed by picture-naming, picture-categorizing and word-categorizing with increased time cost. Different theories were proposed to explain this phenomenon, but none of them could perfectly explain all the results. Chinese words differ from alphabetic words in that most pictophonetic characters consist of phonetic radicals marking pronunciation and semantic radicals indicating superordinate categories. Many studies have showed that semantic radicals play an important role in Chinese characters’ recognition, serving not only as structural and semantic chunks, but also grammatical and recognition chunks. Semantic radicals may promote the categorization of Chinese words. The naming and categorizing of Chinese words and pictures might be different from those of alphabetic words and pictures. The goal of this study was to explore the role of semantic radicals in naming and categorizing of Chinese words and pictures.
Thirty-two college students (17 men and 15 women) took part in the experiment. A 2 × 2 × 2 three-factor within-subject design was used: stimulus (pictures and Chinese words) × task (naming and categorizing) × semantic radical (with and without semantic radicals). The materials included 52 pictures (half of the pictures’ names have semantic radicals and half do not) and 52 words (half with semantic radicals and half without) as targets, 12 words and pictures as practice items and 52 words and pictures as fillers. During the naming task, participants were asked to read aloud the words or name the pictures presented on the screen as quickly and correctly as possible. Naming time was collected by a computer and naming correct percentage was recorded by an examiner. During the categorizing task, participants were asked to decide whether a word or picture belongs to a certain category or not by pressing F or J on the keyboard. Stimuli were presented in a total of six blocks (208 trials). Before the experiment, the participants were familiarized with the pictures.
The results showed that Chinese words and pictures were asymmetrical in naming and categorizing: Word-reading was faster than word-categorizing but picture-naming was slower than picture-categorizing. Semantic radicals had an asymmetry effect on naming and categorizing of Chinese words and pictures. They only affected word-processing but not picture-processing. More specifically, semantic radicals only had a significant effect on word-categorizing but not word-reading: words with semantic radicals were categorized faster than words without them and even pictures. This phenomenon was attributed to the structure characteristics of Chinese words of which the semantic radicals mark the superordinate categories. A comprehensive cognitive model of Chinese words and pictures was proposed to explain all the results.
Based on above findings, we came to draw the following conclusions: (1) there are both similarities and differences between the naming and categorizing of Chinese and alphabetical words and pictures; (2) Chinese words and pictures were asymmetrical in naming and categorizing; (3) semantic radicals had asymmetry effect on naming and categorizing of Chinese words and pictures

Key words: semantic radicals, Chinese words, pictures, naming, categorizing

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