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Review of  Reading Chinese Script: A Cognitive Analysis

Reviewer: Nancy Eng
Book Title: Reading Chinese Script: A Cognitive Analysis
Book Author: Hsuan-Chih Chen Albrecht W Inhoff Jian Wang
Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Writing Systems
Cognitive Science
Subject Language(s): Chinese, Mandarin
Issue Number: 10.892

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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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