Semantic Transparency in Chinese Compound Word Processing : Evidence From Mismatch Negativity

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)216-223
Journal / PublicationNeuroscience
Online published11 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 10 May 2022


This study examined how semantic transparency modulated the processing of spoken Chinese compound words with event-related potential (ERP) recording. A reverse-block passive oddball paradigm was adopted to elicit mismatch negativity (MMN), which responds to holistic and combinatorial processing in opposite directions. Specifically, linguistic inputs that are processed as holistic lexical representations will elicit stronger MMNs (lexical enhancement) than those that do not have such representations. In contrast, when they are processed by combining the constituents, smaller MMNs will be elicited (combinatorial reduction) as compared to non-combinable inputs. We compared the strengths of MMNs among transparent words, opaque words, and pseudocompounds (that did not have lexical representations and were non-combinable). It was shown that transparent words triggered smaller MMNs than pseudocompounds, which supported combinatorial processing. Opaque words did not differ from pseudocompounds, which was interpreted as parallel employment of the holistic and combinatorial processing routes. Overall, the results are consistent with the idea that native Chinese speakers routinely attempt to process Chinese compound words by retrieving and combining morphemes. However, because the meanings of opaque words are irrelevant to their constituent morphemes, Chinese speakers must construct and retrieve their holistic representations to ensure accurate processing.

Research Area(s)

  • Chinese, compound word, dual-route model, mismatch negativity, semantic transparency