Knowing Chinese character grammar
James Myers
July 2015

Chinese characters obey regularities that are sometimes described as constituting a kind of grammar, including patterns unrelated to meaning or pronunciation. The purely formal nature of such patterns is reminiscent of the phonologies of spoken or signed languages, but also makes it unclear whether readers actually know them. To find out, we asked Chinese readers to judge the acceptability of fake characters varying both in grammaticality (obeying or violating constraints on element reduplication) and in lexicality (of the reduplicative configurations). Lexicality improved acceptability, but grammaticality did so independently as well. Acceptability was also higher for more frequent reduplicative elements, suggesting that the reduplicative configurations were decomposed. Visual complexity had no effect. Reaction times, however, showed that grammatical configurations were accepted more quickly when also lexical: knowledge of Chinese character grammar, like spoken and signed phonology, builds on lexical knowledge.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/002562
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: (2016) Cognition, 147, 127-132. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2015.11.012. Accepted ms (with materials, raw data, and new abstract) is also available on my homepage.
keywords: grammar, orthography, acceptability, phonology, reduplication, chinese
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