The role of phonology and semantics in orthographic learning in Chinese: The lexical and sublexical components
Skilled reading requires a large store of well-specified orthographic representations of individual words. Understanding how these orthographic representations are acquired, that is, orthographic learning (Nation & Castles, 2017), will therefore improve our understanding of the development of a skilled reading system. This thesis examines orthographic learning in a non-alphabetic language - Chinese - within the framework of the self-teaching hypothesis (Share, 1995). Written Chinese can be connected to both phonology and semantics sublexically, representing a particularly interesting case to study how orthographic learning takes place. This thesis reports five studies, exploring the roles of phonological decoding, semantic decoding and vocabulary knowledge in the process of orthographic learning in Chinese.
Chapter 1 tests the self-teaching hypothesis and the effect of phonological decoding via the sublexical phonetic radical on orthographic learning of Chinese characters in Grade 2 children. Chapter 2 examines the role of semantic decoding via the sublexical semantic radical in reading and orthographic learning in adults. Chapter 3 investigates the interaction between phonological decoding and semantic decoding in orthographic learning in Grade 4 children. Chapter 4 explores how vocabulary knowledge affects the orthographic learning of phonetically regular and irregular characters in Grades 2 and 4 children. Finally, Chapter 5 investigates the separate influences of lexical phonological and semantic knowledge on reading and orthographic learning of novel characters in adults.
The main findings of this thesis are: phonological decoding supports orthographic learning of novel characters through self-teaching; semantic decoding has limited influence on orthographic learning but assists the learning of the connections between orthography and semantics; the presence of lexical vocabulary knowledge enhances orthographic learning and this benefit is not modulated by sublexical phonological decoding. These findings provide support for phonological decoding as a self-teaching mechanism in Chinese and further suggest that phonological decoding and both the phonological and semantic components of the vocabulary knowledge play unique roles in orthographic learning in Chinese.