LINGUIST List 10.925

Wed Jun 16 1999

Review: Wang et al.: Reading Chinese

Editor for this issue: Andrew Carnie <>

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  1. NANCYENG, Review: Wang et al. Reading Chinese Script.

Message 1: Review: Wang et al. Reading Chinese Script.

Date: Sat, 12 Jun 1999 00:08:59 EDT
Subject: Review: Wang et al. Reading Chinese Script.

Wang, J., Inhoff, A.W. and Chen, H.-C. (1999). Reading Chinese script: A 
cognitive analysis. NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 304 pages.

Reviewed by Nancy Eng, St. John's University

The uniqueness of the Chinese language has intrigued researchers for decades. 
 In particular, the past twenty years have produced large numbers of papers 
appearing in scholarly journals such as Brain and Language, Neurocase, 
Journal of Experimental Psychology, Language and Cognitive Processes, 
Aphasiology, Memory and Cognition - to name a few. Chinese is a language 
with well over hundreds of spoken dialects - most of which are mutually 
unintelligible so that speakers are united by means of the written script. 
Even the orthography itself, described as a logographic script, has perplexed 
both Western and Eastern scholars alike.

Through fourteen self-contained chapters, Reading Chinese script: A cognitive 
analysis, edited by J. Wang, A.W. Inhoff, and H.-C. Chen provides the reader 
with an in-depth analysis of different processes involved with the reading of 
Chinese script. It incorporates the rapidly growing knowledge base about 
what readers of Chinese do in the process of reading and how these processes 
might be the same or different from those of readers of alphabetic scripts 
such as English. Because one chapter is not necessarily a pre-requisite for 
another chapter, each contributor provides the essential background 
information leading to the these of her/his chapter. Though some of this 
information might seem repetitive, this reviewer found the repetition helpful 
as it provided a different perspective on a particular theme.

Chapters in this book are arranged in a logical fashion where the first third 
of the book is dedicated to papers regarding the nature of Chinese characters 
and its impact on character recognition. Eye movements and the variables 
that impact on these behaviors are examined in the second third of the book. 
The reminder of the book is directed to the reading of multi-character words 
and sentences and the semantic and pragmatic knowledge specific to reading 
these types of Chinese strings.

A few words of caution to the audience: because this area of study is 
rapidly expanding, one can expect some inconsistency in the use of technical 
terms and indeed this was observed in this book. For example, across 
chapters, the linguistic terms "compound" and "radical" are used to refer to 
the same phenomenon. Secondly, simplified characters (when Chinese 
characters appear) are used in lieu of traditional characters. For some 
members of the audience, this might not be a problem, however, for many 
others, this can be rather distracting. Also in this connection, in some of 
the chapters a more liberal use of Chinese characters would have contributed 
to the ease of reading for information. Lastly, because this book can be 
regarded as a synopsis of the state-of-the-art in the study of reading 
Chinese, it makes some assumptions regarding the knowledge base of the 
audience - both in the area linguistic theory as well as in the area of 
Chinese linguistics.

Chapter One starts by exploring the nature of the Chinese 
orthography (by distinguishing among the components of characters) and making 
some predictions about how children learn to read Chinese characters. 
Following along the lines of morphological values, Chapters Two, Three, Four, 
and Five examine the ways characters might be decomposed in the process of 
character identification. Chapter Eight provides an elaborate model for 
character recognition by building on the premise that readers use the context 
in which characters appear to serve to facilitate character recognition. Eye 
behaviors, saccade and fixation, for Chinese and English reading are reviewed 
and compared in Chapters Nine, Ten, and Eleven. To exam eye movement for 
Chinese reading, a number of variables need to be considered, including 
single vs. multi-character words, frequency of characters, presence of 
radicals, script-type as well as character and word complexity. Chapters 
Twelve, Thirteen, and Fourteen examine some interesting aspects of Chinese 
reading. In particular, the question of reading comprehension is explored. 
Because all characters are written within equal, physical space with equal 
spacing between characters, there are no word boundary markers yet skilled 
readers automatically recognize multi-character words within the context of a 
sentence. The possible explanations for this seemingly difficult task are 
offered in the final chapters of this book.

This book, admittedly difficult to manage at times, nonetheless, serves as an 
invaluable resource for linguists, educators, psychologists, and speech 
pathologists with a particular interest in the processes involved in reading 

About the reviewer: Nancy Eng, Ph.D., CCC-SLP. Dr. Eng is currently an 
Assistant Professor at Saint John's University, New York, in the Department 
of Speech, Communication Sciences, and Theatre. As a licensed 
speech-language pathologist, she has research interests in the areas of 
language disruptions following brain-damage in readers/speakers/writers of 
Chinese. More recently, she was invited to speak at the Neuro/Cognitive 
Science Conference on the Chinese Language, hosted by Hong Kong University. 
She is currently preparing a manuscript on biscriptal reading 
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