Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 14: 179–194, 2001.
© 2001 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
The semantic effect on retrieval of radicals
in logographic characters
JUN YAMADA & HIROOMI TAKASHIMA
Faculty of Integrated Arts and Sciences, Hiroshima University, Kagamiyama, Higashi
Abstract. This study examined the semantic effect on retrieval of radicals of Japanese kanji.
In the retrieval task, a stimulus word written in hiragana (Japanese syllabary) was presented
one by one on a display, and participants quickly named the left radical of the target kanji
character that corresponded to the stimulus hiragana word. It was found that the mean naming
latency was shorter and fewer errors were made when the left radicals were semantically
related to the target kanji than when they were not. Also remarkable was a momentary retrieval
failure (i.e., no response) characterized as a ‘tip-of-the-pen’ state which even a high-frequency
word precipitated more often in the semantically unrelated condition. These results highlight
a critical role that meaning plays in the activation of orthographic forms of kanji. Some
characteristic features of writing in kanji are discussed.
Keywords: Logographic character, Radical, Semantic effect, Tip-of-the-pen
Logographic scripts such as Japanese kanji basically consist of a set of
morphemes, the smallest meaningful linguistic units (see Sampson 1985;
Taylor & Taylor 1983). As such, the role of meaning has been discussed hotly
in reading research on logographic characters (e.g., Baron & Strawson 1976;
Cheng 1992; Flores d’Arcais 1992; Flores d’Arcais, Saito & Kawakami 1995;
Perfetti & Zhang 1995; Tan, Hoosain & Peng 1995; Wang 1973; Wydell,
Patterson & Butterworth 1993; Yamada 1998a, b; Zhou & Marslen-Wilson
1996, 1997). For example, Zhou & Marslen-Wilson (1996) observe that
“access to the Chinese mental lexicon can only be carried out through the
direct visual access. There is no ‘prelexical’ phonology in reading Chinese”
(p. 718); Cheng (1992) asserts that “despite the facts that no GPC [grapheme-
phoneme correspondence] rule exists in logographic Chinese characters and
that the radical-sound correspondences in Chinese are highly ﬂexible, reading
Chinese characters requires phonological mediation” (p. 89); and Wydell et
al. (1993) state that “the data provide strong evidence for direct (nonsemantic)
access to phonology from Kanji words” (p. 502). This controversy, albeit not