The Trade-Off Between Format Familiarity and Word-Segmentation Facilitation in Chinese Reading

Frontiers in Psychology 12 (2021)
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Abstract

In alphabetic writing systems (such as English), the spaces between words mark the word boundaries, and the basic unit of reading is distinguished during visual-level processing. The visual-level information of word boundaries facilitates reading. Chinese is an ideographic language whose text contains no intrinsic inter-word spaces as the marker of word boundaries. Previous studies have shown that the basic processing unit of Chinese reading is also a word. However, findings remain inconsistent regarding whether inserting spaces between words in Chinese text promotes reading performance. Researchers have proposed that there may be a trade-off between format familiarity and the facilitation effect of inter-word spaces. In order to verify this, this study manipulated the format familiarity via reversing the Chinese reading direction from right to left to investigate this issue in Experiment 1 and Experiment 2. The purpose of Experiment 1 was to examine whether inter-word spaces facilitated Chinese reading in an unfamiliar format. Experiment 1 was conducted that 40 native Chinese undergraduates read Chinese sentences from right to left on four format conditions. The results showed faster reading speed and shorter total reading time for the inter-word spaced format. Based on this finding, Experiment 2 examined whether the facilitation effect of inter-word spaces would reduce or disappear after improving the format familiarity; this experiment was conducted that 40 native Chinese undergraduates who did not participate in Experiment 1 read Chinese sentences from right to left on four format conditions after ten-day reading training. There was no significant difference between the total reading time and reading speed in the inter-word spaced format and unspaced format, which suggests that the facilitation effect of inter-word spaces in Chinese reading changed smaller. The combined results of the two experiments suggest that there is indeed a trade-off between format familiarity and the facilitation of word segmentation, which supports the assumption of previous studies.

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