Foveal and parafoveal processing of Chinese three-character idioms in reading

Zang, Chuanli orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-9573-4968, Fu, Ying, Bai, Xuejun, Yan, Guoli and Liversedge, Simon Paul orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-8579-8546 (2021) Foveal and parafoveal processing of Chinese three-character idioms in reading. Journal of Memory and Language, 119 . ISSN 0749-596X

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Chinese idioms are likely to be represented and processed as Multi-Constituent Units (MCUs, a multi-word unit with a single lexical representation, see Zang, 2019). Chinese idioms with a 1-character verb and 2-character noun structure are processed foveally, but not parafoveally, as a single lexical unit (Yu et al., 2016), probably because the verb only loosely constrains noun identity. By contrast, Chinese idioms with modifier-noun structure are more likely MCU candidates due to significant modifier constraint over the subsequent noun. We investigated whether idioms of this type are parafoveally and foveally processed as MCUs during natural reading. In Experiment 1, we manipulated phrase type (idiom or matched phrase) and preview of the noun (identity, unrelated character or pseudocharacter) using the boundary paradigm (Rayner, 1975). A larger preview effect occurred for idioms on the modifier with shorter fixations for identical than unrelated and pseudocharacter previews. This suggests idioms are parafoveally processed to a greater extent than matched phrases. In Experiment 2, preview of the modifier and noun of idioms and phrases (identity or pseudocharacter) was orthogonally manipulated (c.f., Cutter, Drieghe & Liversedge, 2014). For identity modifiers, a greater noun preview effect occurred for idioms relative to phrases providing further evidence that modifier-noun idioms are lexicalised MCUs and processed parafoveally as single, unified representations.

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