The proximate unit in Korean speech production: phoneme or syllable?

Rinus G. Verdonschot*, Jeong-Im Han, Sachiko Kinoshita

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


We investigated the “proximate unit” in Korean, that is, the initial phonological unit selected in speech production by Korean speakers. Previous studies have shown mixed evidence indicating either a phoneme-sized or a syllable-sized unit. We conducted two experiments in which participants named pictures while ignoring superimposed non-words. In English, for this task, when the picture (e.g., dog) and distractor phonology (e.g., dark) initially overlap, typically the picture target is named faster. We used a range of conditions (in Korean) varying from onset overlap to syllabic overlap, and the results indicated an important role for the syllable, but not the phoneme. We suggest that the basic unit used in phonological encoding in Korean is different from Germanic languages such as English and Dutch and also from Japanese and possibly also Chinese. Models dealing with the architecture of language production can use these results when providing a framework suitable for all languages in the world, including Korean.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-198
Number of pages12
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number1
Early online date27 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2021


  • Korean speech production
  • phonological encoding
  • proximate unit
  • segment vs. syllable


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