Is the superior verbal memory span of Mandarin speakers due to faster rehearsal?

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It is well established that digit span in native Chinese speakers is atypically high. This is commonly attributed to a capacity for more rapid subvocal rehearsal for that group. We explored this hypothesis by testing a group of English-speaking native Mandarin speakers on digit span and word span in both Mandarin and English, together with a measure of speed of articulation for each. When compared to the performance of native English speakers, the Mandarin group proved to be superior on both digit and word spans while predictably having lower spans in English. This suggests that the Mandarin advantage is not limited to digits. Speed of rehearsal correlated with span performance across materials. However, this correlation was more pronounced for English speakers than for any of the Chinese measures. Further analysis suggested that speed of rehearsal did not provide an adequate account of differences between Mandarin and English spans or for the advantage of digits over words. Possible alternative explanations are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)361-369
Number of pages9
JournalMemory & Cognition
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 6 Nov 2017

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) 2017


  • Articulation speed
  • Chinese memory span
  • Cross-linguistic working memory
  • Digit span
  • Verbal rehearsal

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