Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 10: 245–254, 1998.
The effective visual ﬁeld in reading Chinese
HSUAN-CHIH CHEN & CHI-KONG TANG
The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, PR China
Abstract. The size and shape of the effective visual ﬁeld in Chinese reading was investigated
by systematically manipulating the availability of meaningful information on both sides of a
ﬁxated character. A self-paced, moving-window technique (Chen 1992) was adopted to mea-
sure the viewing time of individual characters as an on-line indicator of reading effectiveness
under various display conditions. The results showed that the effective visual ﬁeld in reading
Chinese was asymmetric and skewed in the direction of scanning with a highly limited size,
composing of the ﬁxated character and two characters to its right.
Key words: Effective visual ﬁeld in reading Chinese, Perceptual span, Directional scanning,
C.K. Leong & K. Tamaoka (eds.), Cognitive Processing of the Chinese
and the Japanese Languages, pp. [91–100]
© 1998 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in the study of how
written Chinese is mentally represented and processed, not only because
the Chinese script is the most persistent and widely used written language
on earth, but also because there are interesting and important psychological
implications arising from major properties of the script (for relevant reviews
and discussions, see Chen 1992, 1996). However, not all aspects of Chinese
reading have been equally studied. For instance, among various topics in the
area, the processing of individual orthographic units (i.e., characters) is by far
the most extensively investigated, whereas reading processes associated with
larger units of the language (e.g., sentences and texts) are hardly studied.
The present article is a contribution to the study of a fundamental but
somewhat neglected topic in Chinese reading, namely how visual information
is extracted from the printed page. Before moving on to describe details of
the present research, it may be useful to sketch some peculiar properties of
written Chinese that are particularly relevant to the question to be addressed.
A Chinese text is constructed by arrays of equally spaced, box-like char-
acters, that vary greatly in construction complexity, and typically represent
lexical morphemes. Note that it is not difﬁcult to segment sequences of
characters into linguistic units such as phrases and sentences because these
units are usually indicated by punctuation marks like commas and periods.
However, the situation is very different when the expected outputs of parsing