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Academic Paper

Title: How iconic are Chinese characters?
Author: Gigi Luk
Institution: Harvard Graduate School of Education
Author: Ellen Bialystok
Institution: York University
Linguistic Field: Lexicography; Typology
Subject Language: Chinese, Mandarin
Abstract: The study explores the notion that some Chinese characters contain pictorial indications of meanings that can be used to help retrieve the referent. Thirty adults with no prior knowledge of Chinese guessed the meanings of twenty Chinese characters by choosing between one of two photographs. Half of the characters were considered to be iconic and the other half was considered to be arbitrary. The proportion of correct guesses for iconic characters was high, but the proportion for arbitrary characters was at chance. These results show a distinction between characters based on the extent to which they have retained aspects of iconicity in reference to their concepts that can direct the reader to their meaning. The results have implications for using pictures to promote the understanding of the orthographic–semantic process in simple Chinese characters.


This article appears IN Bilingualism: Language and Cognition Vol. 8, Issue 1, which you can READ on Cambridge's site or on LINGUIST .

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