The Phonological Unit of Japanese Kanji Compounds: A Masked Priming Investigation

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Using the masked priming paradigm, we examined which phonological unit is used when naming Kanji compounds. Although the phonological unit in the Japanese language has been suggested to be the mora, Experiment 1 found no priming for mora-related Kanji prime-target pairs. In Experiment 2, significant priming was only found when Kanji pairs shared the whole sound of their initial Kanji characters. Nevertheless, when the same Kanji pairs used in Experiment 2 were transcribed into Kana, significant mora priming was observed in Experiment 3. In Experiment 4, matching the syllable structure and pitch-accent of the initial Kanji characters did not lead to mora priming, ruling out potential alternative explanations for the earlier absence of the effect. A significant mora priming effect was observed, however, when the shared initial mora constituted the whole sound of their initial Kanji characters in Experiments 5. Lastly, these results were replicated in Experiment 6. Overall, these results indicate that the phonological unit involved when naming Kanji compounds is not the mora but the whole sound of each Kanji character. We discuss how different phonological units may be involved when processing Kanji and Kana words as well as the implications for theories dealing with language production processes.

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