ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

›› 2009, Vol. 41 ›› Issue (03): 220-232.

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Semantic Codes are Obtained before Word Fixation in Chinese Sentence Reading: Evidence from Eye-movements

WANG Sui-Ping;TONG Xiu-Hong;YANG Jin-Mian;LENG Ying   

  1. Department of Psychology, South China Normal University, Guangzhou, 510631, China
  • Received:2008-01-09 Revised:1900-01-01 Published:2009-03-30 Online:2009-03-30
  • Contact: WANG Sui-Ping

Abstract: One of the important findings in reading research is the preview benefit: in addition to the currently fixated character information from the character to the right of the fixation located in the perceptual span was extracted and used in reading. Fixation durations were shorter when the appropriate visual information about the currently fixated character was available on the previous fixation than when it was inappropriate, suggesting that some preprocessing of the current character (referred as character n) occurred when the eyes were fixating the previous character (referred as character n-1).
In research on alphabetic scripts, it was generally agreed that the preview benefit can result from orthographic and phonological processes. But it was unclear whether semantic information can be extracted from the preview word and produces a preview effect. Albeit some positive evidence, most of the western studies did not support a semantic preview effect. Further, as most studies on this topic have been conducted in alphabetic languages, it is unclear whether the same conclusion applies to non-alphabetic languages such as Chinese which differ from alphabetic languages in many important aspects.
The present study examined whether semantic preview effect can occur in Chinese sentence reading.
In Experiment 1, to examine the immediacy effect of Chinese sentence reading, Chinese participants were instructed to read 44 sentences each containing a target character located in the middle of a sentence, either semantically consistent or inconsistent with the sentence context while their eye movements were recorded.
Results of experiment 1 showed that first-pass processing time was significantly longer at the target character position for the inconsistent target than for the consistent target. This consistency effect indicated that Chinese readers were able to detect the inconsistency right at the target position.
In Experiment 2, an eye-monitoring procedure with the boundary paradigm was adopted to determine whether the semantically violated information located at the preview position (character n) could be detected when the eyes were fixating character n - 1. The stimulus and design were similar to that in Experiment 1, except that the target, either a consistent or inconsistent character, was presented in the preview position when character n-1 was fixated and it turned into another character which was always consistent with the sentence context when character n was fixated.
Results of experiment 2 showed that first-pass fixation was significantly longer at the critical regions for the semantic inconsistent condition relative to the consistent condition, indicating that the semantic information of character n was extracted when character n-1 was fixated.
To sum up, the present results indicate that semantic processing in Chinese sentence reading can occur immediately. Even for characters located in the preview position, their semantic information can be extracted and used.

Key words: preview effect, semantic information, immediacy, eye-movement

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