Memory & Cognition

, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 216-224

First online:

Dimensions of lexical coding in Chinese and English

  • Hsuan-Chih ChenAffiliated withDepartmerit of Psychology, University of Kansas
  • , James F. JuolaAffiliated withDepartmerit of Psychology, University of Kansas


Phonology and orthography are closely related in some languages, such as English, and they are nearly unrelated in others, such as Chinese. The effects of these differences were assessed in a study of the roles of phonemic, graphemic, and semantic information on lexical coding and memory for Chinese logographs and English words. Some of the stimuli in the two languages were selected such that the natural confounding between phonemic and graphemic information in English was matched in the set of Chinese words used. An initial scaling study indicated that this attempt to equate degree of phonemic-graphemic confounding was successful. A second experiment used a recognition memory task for English and Chinese words with separate subject groups of native speakers of the two languages. Subjects were to select one of a pair of test words that was phonemically, graphemically, or semantically similar to a word on a previously studied list. Differences in the dimensions of lexical coding in memory were demonstrated in significant Stimulus Type by Decision Type interactions in the recognition data. Chinese-speaking subjects responded most rapidly and accurately in the graphemic recognition task, whereas performance was generally equivalent in all three tasks for the English-speaking subjects. Alphabetic and logographic writing systems apparently activate different coding and memory mechanisms such that logographic characters produce significantly more visual information in memory, whereas alphabetic words result in a more integrated code involving visual, phonological, and semantic information.