Developmental changes in character-complexity and word-length effects when reading Chinese script

Yi Fen Su, Jay J. Samuels

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

16 Citations (Scopus)


The present study was designed to examine the developmental changes in the character-complexity and word-length effects when reading Chinese script. Character complexity was defined in two ways: (1) the number of constituent strokes for characters (Experiment 1), and (2) the number of constituent radicals for characters (Experiment 2). The word length was defined as the number of characters in words (Experiment 3). The three experiments involved a lexical recognition task, and the participants consisted of 25 second graders, 24 fourth graders, 24 sixth graders, and 25 university students. In Experiment 1, it was found that the response latencies increased with the number of strokes in characters for second graders, whereas no effects were evident for fourth graders, sixth graders, or university students. In contrast, in Experiment 2 no character-complexity effect was found for the number of radicals. In Experiment 3, only a partial word-length effect was found for the number of characters for second graders. These results suggest that beginning Chinese readers process characters in an analytical way, but that the decoding process changes gradually from analytic to holistic as their reading skills develop. The educational implication of this result is discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1085-1108
Number of pages24
JournalReading and Writing
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2010 Jan 1



  • Character-complexity effect
  • Chinese script
  • Developmental changes
  • Word-length effect

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing

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