Direct or indirect relationship between morphological awareness and reading comprehension : a study of adult Sinhala (L1) and English (L2) students.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
In addition to first language reading, reading in English as a second language is important to achieve academic success in education institutions that make substantial use of academic materials written in English. Reading comprehension is a challenge for children and adults due to its complexity. One of the predictors that has been argued to address this complexity is morphological awareness. Morphological awareness may provide useful information about word structure and syntactic structure in constructing meaning from written text. It may facilitate reading comprehension independent of other reading-related skills such as vocabulary knowledge. Additionally, as vocabulary in many languages, including Sinhala and English, is formed of morphemes, and morphology and vocabulary seem to have similar properties, such as meaning and use, it can be argued that morphology relates to vocabulary knowledge and then vocabulary knowledge relates to reading comprehension levels. Therefore, the current study aimed to investigate whether morphological awareness is directly related to reading comprehension or whether it is indirectly related to reading comprehension via vocabulary knowledge. This was assessed in two different languages Sinhala (L1) and English (L2) within the same group of adult students in a university in Sri Lanka. The study also investigated whether morphological awareness transfers between Sinhala and English in support of reading comprehension.
Following the adaptation, piloting and revision of 12 measures, they were given to 189 students. The measures comprised two reading comprehension tasks (Reading Comprehension Questions, which assessed passage level understanding and Reading Comprehension Cloze, which focused on sentence level), two measures of morphological awareness (a Word Structure task and a Morpho-Syntactic Structure task), and two vocabulary measures: (assessing Size of Vocabulary and Depth of Vocabulary). All measures were given in both Sinhala and English; though further analyses questioned the validity of the passage level Sinhala reading comprehension measure, which was then not included in further analyses. A questionnaire was also employed to obtain background details of the participants.
The results indicated significant correlations between the measures of morphology and vocabulary and the reading comprehension measures. They also suggested relationships between Sinhala morphological awareness and English reading comprehension (Cloze and Questions), and between English morphological awareness and Sinhala reading comprehension (Cloze). Furthermore, regression analyses indicated that L1 morphological awareness directly and indirectly, via vocabulary knowledge, contributed to L1 reading comprehension but L2 morphological awareness contributed primarily indirectly, via vocabulary knowledge, to L2 reading comprehension. The cross-language results demonstrated that, after controlling for English morphological awareness, the addition of Sinhala morphological awareness scores predicted extra variability in English reading comprehension at the sentence level, but not at the passage level. Also, English morphological awareness scores did not influence the level of prediction of Sinhala reading comprehension after controlling for Sinhala morphological awareness.
These results demonstrated that morphological awareness and vocabulary made unique contributions to reading comprehension but that the contribution of morphological awareness to reading comprehension varied across L1 (Sinhala) and L2 (English). These findings have both theoretical and practical implications, which are discussed in this thesis.