Electrophysiological evidence of sublexical phonological access in character processing by L2 Chinese learners of L1 alphabetic scripts

Yen Na Cherry YUM, Sam-Po LAW, Kwan Nok MO, Dustin LAU, I-Fan SU, Mark S. K. SHUM

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Citations (Scopus)


While Chinese character reading relies more on addressed phonology relative to alphabetic scripts, skilled Chinese readers also access sublexical phonological units during recognition of phonograms. However, sublexical orthography-to-phonology mapping has not been found among beginning second language (L2) Chinese learners. This study investigated character reading in more advanced Chinese learners whose native writing system is alphabetic. Phonological regularity and consistency were examined in behavioral responses and event-related potentials (ERPs) in lexical decision and delayed naming tasks. Participants were 18 native English speakers who acquired written Chinese after age 5 years and reached grade 4 Chinese reading level. Behaviorally, regular characters were named more accurately than irregular characters, but consistency had no effect. Similar to native Chinese readers, regularity effects emerged early with regular characters eliciting a greater N170 than irregular characters. Regular characters also elicited greater frontal P200 and smaller N400 than irregular characters in phonograms of low consistency. Additionally, regular-consistent characters and irregular-inconsistent characters had more negative amplitudes than irregular-consistent characters in the N400 and LPC time windows. The overall pattern of brain activities revealed distinct regularity and consistency effects in both tasks. Although orthographic neighbors are activated in character processing of L2 Chinese readers, the timing of their impact seems delayed compared with native Chinese readers. The time courses of regularity and consistency effects across ERP components suggest both assimilation and accommodation of the reading network in learning to read a typologically distinct second orthographic system. Copyright © 2015 Psychonomic Society, Inc.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)339-352
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number2
Early online date30 Nov 2015
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016



Yum, Y. N., Law, S.-P., Mo, K. N., Lau, D., Su, I.-F., & Shum, M. S. K. (2016). Electrophysiological evidence of sublexical phonological access in character processing by L2 Chinese learners of L1 alphabetic scripts. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 16(2), 339-352. doi: 10.3758/s13415-015-0394-z.


  • L2 Chinese reading
  • Phonological regularity
  • Phonological consistency
  • Event-related potential (ERP)
  • N170
  • P200
  • N400
  • LPC