Reading and Writing

, Volume 23, Issue 9, pp 1085–1108 | Cite as

Developmental changes in character-complexity and word-length effects when reading Chinese script



The present study was designed to examine the developmental changes in the character-complexity and word-length effects when reading Chinese script. Character complexity was defined in two ways: (1) the number of constituent strokes for characters (Experiment 1), and (2) the number of constituent radicals for characters (Experiment 2). The word length was defined as the number of characters in words (Experiment 3). The three experiments involved a lexical recognition task, and the participants consisted of 25 second graders, 24 fourth graders, 24 sixth graders, and 25 university students. In Experiment 1, it was found that the response latencies increased with the number of strokes in characters for second graders, whereas no effects were evident for fourth graders, sixth graders, or university students. In contrast, in Experiment 2 no character-complexity effect was found for the number of radicals. In Experiment 3, only a partial word-length effect was found for the number of characters for second graders. These results suggest that beginning Chinese readers process characters in an analytical way, but that the decoding process changes gradually from analytic to holistic as their reading skills develop. The educational implication of this result is discussed.


Character-complexity effect Chinese script Developmental changes Word-length effect 



Part of this research was supported by grant no. NSC89-2413-H-003-033-F18 from the National Science Council, Taiwan. We are grateful to two anonymous reviewers for comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. We also thank Dr. Yi-Chen Wu, Ms. Hsiou-Wen Yang, and Mr. Pang-Tsung Chien for valuable assistance in data collection, Dr. Zhong-Fan Hu for computer programming, and the Academic Paper Editing Clinic, National Taiwan Normal University.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Educational Psychology and CounselingNational Taiwan Normal UniversityTaipeiTaiwan
  2. 2.Department of Educational PsychologyUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA

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