Comparisons of the influence of phonological and morphological processing on Chinese reading developmen t: a cross-sectional and longitudinal study
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
The underlying rationale behind alphabetic orthographies is that graphemes roughly correspond to phonemes. However, in the Chinese writing system, the basic unit is a character that usually represents one syllable and corresponds to one morpheme. Given that phonological awareness plays a central role in reading acquisition for alphabets that follow regular grapheme-phoneme correspondence rules, it seems likely that morphological awareness should be more important for learning to read scripts in which the mappings between orthography and meaning are often systematic. Such fundamental differences in the orthographies may have significant implications for the way written words are recognized and, hence, the way reading is acquired. In mainland China, children learn Chinese characters through being taught the more alphabetic script of Pinyin. It is, therefore, likely that the Pinyin system, as well as the Chinese characters system, will influence reading development. Therefore, a complex relationship between reading, phonological and morphological processing may be predicted, with the influence of the latter two on the former varying with development – as Pinyin becomes less important for decoding, phonological influences may be superseded by morphological. The present research investigated the early development of Chinese reading skills to assess potential changes in phonological and morphological influences. Measures of reading Pinyin and Chinese characters were given to children in primary-level school grades in Mainland China. Over the course of the study, grades 1 to 5 were assessed with about 50 children in each grade tested. Measures of word and non-word reading, as well as reading comprehension were used. In addition, a range of phonological and morphological tasks were developed, and these were contrasted with Chinese vocabulary and rapid naming, to measure the potential impact of these language skills on Chinese reading. Cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses were conducted to assess such impacts. Both cross-sectional and longitudinal data indicated a change in relationships across grades such that early phonological predictors of Chinese character and text reading were replaced by morphological processing skills and measures of rapid naming. The results argue that phonological awareness plays an important role in reading acquisition at the beginning of acquisition for these Mainland Chinese students, whereas morphological processing is more important for intermediate and upper graders in later stages of reading development. These findings are discussed in relation to current general models of reading and specific influences of orthography, as well as the context of literacy learning within Mainland China.