Reading is fundamentally similar across disparate writing systems: A systematic characterization of how words and characters influence eye movements in Chinese reading

Xingshan Li*, Klinton Bicknell, Pingping Liu, Wei Wei, Keith Rayner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations

Abstract

While much previous work on reading in languages with alphabetic scripts has suggested that reading is word-based, reading in Chinese has been argued to be less reliant on words. This is primarily because in the Chinese writing system words are not spatially segmented, and characters are themselves complex visual objects. Here, we present a systematic characterization of the effects of a wide range of word and character properties on eye movements in Chinese reading, using a set of mixed-effects regression models. The results reveal a rich pattern of effects of the properties of the current, previous, and next words on a range of reading measures, which is strikingly similar to the pattern of effects of word properties reported in spaced alphabetic languages. This finding provides evidence that reading shares a word-based core and may be fundamentally similar across languages with highly dissimilar scripts. We show that these findings are robust to the inclusion of character properties in the regression models and are equally reliable when dependent measures are defined in terms of characters rather than words, providing strong evidence that word properties have effects in Chinese reading above and beyond characters. This systematic characterization of the effects of word and character properties in Chinese advances our knowledge of the processes underlying reading and informs the future development of models of reading. More generally, however, this work suggests that differences in script may not alter the fundamental nature of reading.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)895-913
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Volume143
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2014

Keywords

  • Chinese reading
  • Eye movements
  • Mixed-effects regression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology(all)
  • Developmental Neuroscience

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