Identifying the On- and Kun-readings of Chinese characters: Identification of On versus Kun as a strategy-based judgment

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From the perspective of the strategy-based judgment, the present paper researched the process by which the reading of a Chinese character (kanji) is identified as On (reading borrowed from Chinese) or Kun (native Japanese reading). In these experiments, questionnaires containing a list of Chinese characters and their associated readings were printed, and subjects were asked to judge whether the reading given was On or Kun. Subjects were also asked to state the degree of confidence they felt in making this judgment. In Experiment 1, the survey consisted of characters which have only an On-reading. The correct rate and degree-of-confidence judgments from this test suggest that in deciding whether a reading is On or Kun, the strategy employed is ‘If the reading for a character which occurs independently has concrete meaning, it is a Kun-reading; if the reading does not have concrete meaning, it is an On-reading’. In Experiment 2, the questionnaire was made up of characters with multiple readings, both On and Kun. From the results of this latter experiment, it would appear that the strategy employed when a character has multiple readings is to reserve judgment regarding the On- or Kun-reading until after the various possible readings have been compared with one another. In addition, the results of these experiments suggest that the strategy employed differs depending on the number of readings that can be assigned to each character. When only one reading is possible, subjects make a judgment directly, but when multiple readings exist for a given character the subjects first compare the possible readings and make inferences; only when this process is complete do they apply a strategy to identify a reading as On or Kun.

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