In collaboration with Roderick Gawthrop and Sachiko Kinoshita (Macquarie University) and Rinus Verdonschot (Hiroshima University), I've recently had two papers published that examine the process of abstraction in letter recognition. In English, there are two forms for each letter: uppercase and lowercase (e.g., A and a), which are referred to as allographs. One indication of the abstract link between allographs that share a letter identity is that presenting either allograph primes processing of the other, regardless of whether they look similar (C and c) or dissimilar (A and a). Other orthographies, such as Japanese kana, also have multiple allographs representing a single identity. We asked whether the allograph forms of kana behave similarity to the allograph forms of English letters by looking for evidence of kana priming that is not dependent on visual similarity. For example, does あ prime ア (visually-dissimilar allographs) to the same degree that り primes リ (visually-similar allographs) ? We found that allograph priming in kana is based on abstract representations, just like allograph priming in English. We suggest that this abstraction process is a general solution to the problem of mapping across two visual forms in orthographies with this property.
Schubert, T., Gawthrop, R., & Kinoshita, S. (2018). Evidence for cross-script abstract identities in learners of Japanese kana. Memory & Cognition, 46(6), 1010-21. doi: 10.3758/s13421-018-0818-4
Kinoshita, S., Schubert, T., & Verdonschot, R. (2018). Allograph priming is based on abstract letter identities: Evidence from Japanese kana. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. doi: 10.1037/xlm0000563