English-Chinese bilingual children’s reading: An exploration of influences of learning a distinct writing system through visual processing

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Zhou, Jie
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Experienced adult readers demonstrate significant priming effects for semantically related prime-target pairs (golden-GOLD) and pseudo prime-target pairs (mother-MOTH), while children benefit from only semantically related primes. Findings like this support a dual-route processing model in which the whole word and the root word are processed in parallel by experienced readers, with no regard to the meanings of these two components. Despite these age-related differences, it is not clear if the non-semantic morphological advantage is limited to adult readers. This study sought to explore if an early-emerging non-semantic morphological advantage can occur in children by examining potential influences of children’s exposure to Chinese character reading. The majority of Chinese characters are compounds that involve similar parallel processing as adult processing of multi-morphemic alphabetic words. Young Chinese children are able to recognize a whole character despite the interference of a non-meaningful composing unit, which is often a stand-alone character. The current study examined whether cross-language facilitation of non-semantic morphological processing in children is possible. Using a primed lexical decision task involving semantic and pseudo-primes in English reading, results showed that early experience of Chinese character learning, compared to no such experience in children, was associated with stronger priming in the semantic-suffixed condition. This stronger priming persisted when letters within primes were transposed near the suffix boundary, indicating that those children had a preference for processing the given words as wholes, rather than focussing on the suffix boundary. However, the non-semantic morphological advantage was not found. The implications of this finding in relation to the dual route model is discussed.
English-Chinese bilingual, reading, cross-language