Word-form encoding of disyllabic words in Mandarin Chinese was investigated with the implicit priming paradigm. Experiments 1a and 1b examined implicit priming for two hypothesized units in Mandarin Chinese, the character (syllable + tone + orthography) and the syllable + tone unit. Both units produced large and comparable implicit priming effects. Experiments 2, 3, and 4 (each with two subexperiments) and three follow-up experiments examined the syllable and the tone as the hypothesized units. The results showed that the syllable-alone (i.e., tones differed) prime produced some priming, whereas the tone-alone prime (i.e., syllables differed) produced no traditional implicit priming (the effect tended to be negative). Finally, Experiment 5 examined whether the syllable onset alone was capable of producing the implicit priming effect. It was not, thus ruling out the possibility that the syllable-alone effect could just be a syllable-onset effect. Taken together, the results suggest that (1) syllable+tone is a unit in word production and orthography and/or morphology does not seem to play a role here, (2) syllable without tone can act as a separate planning unit at the phonological level, and (3) tone most likely functions like stress and constitutes part of the metrical frame in Mandarin Chinese. The results support some, but not all, assumptions of models of word-form encoding derived primarily from studies in Dutch and English.
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