The syllable as the proximate unit in Mandarin Chinese word production: An intrinsic or accidental property of the production system?

Train Min Chen, Jenn Yeu Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

35 Citations (Scopus)


Previous word production research employing the implicit-priming paradigm has shown that speakers can benefit from advance knowledge of the initial word form of the word to be produced. In Dutch and English, a single onset segment is sufficient to produce the benefit, but a complete syllable (without the tone) is required in Mandarin Chinese. These findings have been interpreted as suggesting language-dependent proximate units for word-form encoding, which are intrinsic to a language-specific system. Nonetheless, the absence of a segment effect in Mandarin Chinese might have to do with the orthographic characteristics of the prompts, which are syllable-based and could have motivated the production system to place more emphasis on the syllable than on the segment. Two experiments were conducted to test this hypothesis. In Experiment 1, we employed the implicit-priming paradigm with both spoken and written prompts, and in Experiment 2 we adopted a picture version of this paradigm. Spoken prompts are less likely to encourage an orthographically induced syllable bias, and picture naming involves no prompts, leaving no room for any syllable bias that prompts might induce. The results from both experiments showed syllable preparation effects but no segment preparation effects, regardless of whether prompts were written, spoken, or absent. These findings suggest that the syllable as the proximate unit in Mandarin Chinese word production is an intrinsic, and not an accidental or task-dependent, property of the production system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)154-162
Number of pages9
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013 Feb 6



  • Implicit priming
  • Mandarin Chinese
  • Proximate unit
  • Word production

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

Cite this