Influence of morphological, orthographic and phonological awareness in writing skills among bilingual Malay-English speakers: a study of adult (pre-university) students in Peninsular Malaysia
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This research investigated Malay-English adult bilingual learners’ knowledge of morphological awareness, orthographic knowledge and phonological processing, and how these linguistic aspects relate to L2 writing in contrast to vocabulary and grammar knowledge. This research also examined whether morphological awareness, orthographic knowledge and phonological processing can transfer across languages, and thereby support L2 essay writing. The study involved a total of 120 Malay-English adult bilingual learners, aged between 17 and 19 years old. Participants were recruited from a public matriculation centre in Peninsular Malaysia. Participants completed 24-sub-tests (12 sub-tests in each language). These tests comprised timed essay, grammar, vocabulary, morphology, orthography and phonology. The participants’ essays were scored using the Jacobs et al. (1981) ESL Composition Profile, with items for other measures being coded as correct/incorrect and producing a total correct score that was either time-limited or not.
Analyses for the first research objective indicated that morphological awareness, orthographic knowledge and phonological processing measures did not predict L2 writing (based on the Jacobs et al. (1981) scale scores) after controlling for vocabulary and grammar. Rather, scores on the L2 writing scale were primarily predicted by vocabulary. Therefore, given the importance of English as L2 in the Malaysian context, vocabulary knowledge would seem to be an important factor to take into account when supporting Malay-English learners, particularly in relation to the quality of their English essays.
Further analyses investigated predictors of the number of words written, the proportion of spelling and grammar errors and repeated words in the English essays. In contrast to the findings from using the Jacobs et al. (1981) scale, these measures of essay writing suggested that Malay-English adult bilingual learners require more than just vocabulary knowledge to produce quality L2 essays. The analyses indicated that the number of words written, the proportion of spelling and grammar errors and repeated words were predicted by the measures of morphological awareness, orthographic knowledge and phonological processing, after controlling for vocabulary and grammar.
The outcomes for the second research objective indicated little evidence of transfer between these two languages; although there was some influence from English grammatical knowledge on essay writing in Malay. However, analyses of the number of words written, the proportion of spelling and grammar errors and the level of repeated words in the L2 essays, suggested some level of cross-language transfer. The analyses suggested that apart from their L2 basic underlying skills, the Malay-English adult bilingual learners’ L2 writing was predicted by L1 morphological awareness and orthographic knowledge.
The results of the study were discussed in terms of the importance of L2 vocabulary knowledge for successful production of L2 essays. However, the discussion also considered the use of the Jacobs et al. (1981) scale, which may place greater importance on vocabulary knowledge for L2 writing. The relationships between additional measures of L2 essay production and morphological awareness, orthographic knowledge and phonological processing is discussed in terms of a model of writing that proposes two general skills of production and composition. Potential transfer of basic skills between languages is a further feature of L2 learning that may need to be added to this model for it to be used in second/additional language learning contexts. Overall, the findings argue for Malay-English adult bilingual learners with advanced vocabulary knowledge to be more likely to write quality English essays, but that basic language skills across orthographies may still need to be considered in theoretical models and potentially in teaching methods.