The implications of Chinese for models of word reading
Models of word reading have come primarily from studies of English word identification, supplemented by studies of alphabetic writing systems for European languages. This is true both for symbolic models that postulate an internal lexicon and multiple pathways to pronunciation (Coltheart, 1978; Coltheart et al., 1993; Besner & Smith, 1992; Paap & Noel, 1991) and nonsymbolic models that assume a single mechanism without a lexicon (Harm & Seidenberg, 1999; Seidenberg & McClelland, 1989; Plaut et al., 1996; Van Orden, Pennington & Stone, 1990). Models that may extend beyond English (Berent & Perfetti, 1995; Grainger & Jacobs, 1994; Grainger & Jacobs, 1996; Jacobs et al., 1998) remain largely focused on alphabetic writing systems.
Research on reading in nonalphabetic writing systems, however, has accumulated sufficiently to invite comparisons with alphabetic reading. Both Japanese Kana, a syllabic system, and Chinese have been the focus of research. Because the Chinese system, as used in China and derivatively elsewhere in Southeast Asia (e.g. Japanese Kanji), presents the highest contrast to alphabetic systems, it provides an especially interesting comparison with alphabetic reading.
A focus on Chinese brings to light an important property of reading that may have been partially submerged by alphabetic research and its focus on routes to the lexicon and phonological mediation of meaning: that phonology is automatically activated in reading words, whether it is “before” or “after” some moment of lexical access and whether it is instrumental in retrieving the meaning of a word.