LINGUIST List 10.892

Sat Jun 12 1999

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

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  • 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
    From: NANCYENG <>
    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 Chinese.

    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 (Chinese/English)