The Functional Unit of Japanese Word Naming: Evidence From Masked Priming

Rinus G. Verdonschot, Sachiko Kiyama, Katsuo Tamaoka, Sachiko Kinoshita, Wido La Heij, Niels O. Schiller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Citations (Scopus)


Theories of language production generally describe the segment as the basic unit in phonological encoding (e.g., Dell, 1988; Levelt, Roelofs, & Meyer, 1999). However, there is also evidence that such a unit might be language specific. Chen, Chen, and Dell (2002), for instance, found no effect of single segments when using a preparation paradigm. To shed more light on the functional unit of phonological encoding in Japanese, a language often described as being mora based, we report the results of 4 experiments using word reading tasks and masked priming. Experiment 1 demonstrated using Japanese kana script that primes, which overlapped in the whole mora with target words, sped up word reading latencies but not when just the onset overlapped. Experiments 2 and 3 investigated a possible role of script by using combinations of romaji (Romanized Japanese) and hiragana; again, facilitation effects were found only when the whole mora and not the onset segment overlapped. Experiment 4 distinguished mora priming from syllable priming and revealed that the mora priming effects obtained in the first 3 experiments are also obtained when a mora is part of a syllable. Again, no priming effect was found for single segments. Our findings suggest that the mora and not the segment (phoneme) is the basic functional phonological unit in Japanese language production planning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1458-1473
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2011 Nov


  • Japanese
  • Language production
  • Onset priming
  • Phonological unit


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