Morphological Property and Polysemy in Character Recognition in Chinese as a Foreign Language

Yi Xu, Lin Chen

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Given the morpho-syllabic writing system and the predominance of compound words in Chinese, attention to the unit of morpheme or character is essential for learning Chinese as a foreign language. The usages of characters in word structures vary depending on their morphological property (bound vs. free morphemes) and semantic ambiguity (polysemous vs. monosemous). This chapter investigates the impact of these two variables on learners’ mental representation. In the first experiment, 26 learners completed a naming task with 116 target characters crossing the two independent variables. In the second experiment, a different group of 26 learners completed a naming task where the same set of characters were prompted by compound words that contain the target characters. Results revealed advantages of polysemous and free-morpheme characters, but both advantages diminished within the word context. Morphemes with distinct semantic representations and rich semantic features were processed more easily. Meanwhile, the processing of bound morphemes (in comparison to free morphemes) was more dependent on the word context. These findings provide the psycholinguistic basis for a hybrid pedagogical approach where whole-word instruction is complemented by attention to individual characters’ sound and meaning in compound words.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationPedagogical Grammar and Grammar Pedagogy in Chinese as a Second Language
EditorsFangyuan Yuan, Baozhang He, Wenze Hu
ISBN (Electronic)9781003161646
ISBN (Print)9780367752460
StatePublished - Sep 30 2022
Externally publishedYes


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