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The role of compound awareness in Chinese children’s vocabulary acquisition and character reading

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This study examined compound awareness in relation to Chinese children's vocabulary acquisition and character reading. Two aspects of compound awareness were investigated: the ability to identify the head of a compound noun and the ability to construct a new compound word from familiar morphemes. The compound awareness tasks, along with rapid automatized naming (RAN) and phonological awareness tasks, were administered to 29 first graders and 30 second graders in Mainland China. Results show that (1) compound awareness develops relatively early among Chinese children and improves with age, (2) compound awareness explains unique variance in vocabulary and character reading, after controlling for age, RAN, and phonological awareness, and (3) the contribution made by compound awareness to vocabulary is much larger than the contribution made by phonological awareness. These results demonstrate that compound awareness plays a central role in Chinese children's literacy development, particularly in vocabulary acquisition.

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    Pronunciations of Chinese characters are enclosed in black slashes and written in Pinyin. The numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4 indicate the four tones of Mandarin Chinese syllables: high level, mid rising, low falling and then rising, and high falling, respectively.


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This research was supported by the National Social Science Fund (07CYY011) to Meiling Hao, and grants from the Educational Committee of Beijing (SYS100270661) and the Natural Science Foundation of China (60534080) to Hua Shu.

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Correspondence to Xi Chen.

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Chen, X., Hao, M., Geva, E. et al. The role of compound awareness in Chinese children’s vocabulary acquisition and character reading. Read Writ 22, 615 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-008-9127-9

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  • Chinese compound awareness
  • Vocabulary
  • Character reading
  • Phonological awareness