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Grapho-Syllabic Systematicity in Chinese: Chinese Pictographs Have a Non-Arbitrary relation with their Pronunciations

Du, Fiona, Jee, Hana ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-6248-9786, Tamariz, Monica and Shillcock, Richard (2022) Grapho-Syllabic Systematicity in Chinese: Chinese Pictographs Have a Non-Arbitrary relation with their Pronunciations. Cognitive Science Society, 44.

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It was recently found that letter-shapes have a non-arbitrary relation with their canonical pronunciations, in multiple orthographies and quantified across the whole of each orthography: letters that look similar tend to have similar pronunciations. Similarly, there is phonosemantic systematicity at the word level: words that sound similar tend to have similar meanings. We investigated for the first time whether a similar systematicity exists in Chinese characters. We measured all the pairwise phonological distances and all the pairwise orthographic distances of the 58 Chinese pictographic characters that are taught to year 1 and 2 in Chinese primary schools. The correlation was tested between the two lists of distances and verified by a Mantel test. We found a significant negative correlation between characters and their segmental pronunciations: characters that look similar tend to have dissimilar segmental pronunciations. This contrasts with the positive correlations found in previous similar research with alphabetic writing. We conclude, first, that questions of systematicity in the Chinese writing system are tractable in the same terms and by the same methodology as that applied to alphabetic writing systems. Second, segment-based processing requires to be augmented by tones for there to be systematicity that is comparable to that found in alphabetic writing systems. Any non-arbitrary relation between letter shapes and sounds may help bootstrap the acquisition of literacy. Keywords: Chinese pictographs, orthography, phonology, grapho-phonemic systematicity

Item Type: Article
Status: Published
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PI Oriental languages and literatures
School/Department: School of Education, Language and Psychology
URI: https://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/7256

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