A striking feature of speakers of Chinese is the fact that their immediate verbal memory span tends to be substantially greater than is found for other languages. This is not limited to digits, nor is it is it adequately accounted for in terms of spoken duration. We explore two sources of this potential linguistic advantage, one is in terms of supplementary visual coding. We use the visual similarity effect to assess this hypothesis finding little support for its importance. The second approach assesses the role of subvocal articulation, using articulatory suppression which has been shown to remove the impact of phonological similarity on the recall of visually presented verbal sequences. We find that the phonological similarity effect remains in both Mandarin and Cantonese speakers, suggesting that Chinese language speakers may be able to maintain a phonological representation of the material despite concurrent articulation of an irrelevant utterance. We discuss a possible mechanism and its theoretical implications. Finally, we speculate that this enhanced capacity may reflect an adaptation to the demands of learning to map the Chinese writing system onto a complex tonal language.
Bibliographical note© 2022 The Author(s).
- Short-term memory
- Chinese language
- Phonological similarity
- Subvocal articulation