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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
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.
Berko, J. (1958). The child’s learning of English morphology. Word, 14, 150–177.
Carlisle, J. F. (1995). Morphological awareness and early reading achievement. In Feldman, L. (Ed.), Morphological aspects of language processing (pp 189–209). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.
Carlisle, J. F. (2000). Awareness of the structure and meaning of morphologically complex words: Impact on reading. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 12, 169–190.
Carroll, J. B., & White, M. N. (1973). Word frequency and age of acquisition as determiners of picture-naming latency. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 25, 85–95. doi:10.1080/14640747308400325.
Casalis, S., & Louis-Alexandre, M.-F. (2000). Morphological analysis, phonological analysis and learning to read French: A longitudinal study. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 12, 303–335.
Clark, E. V. (1995). Language acquisition: The lexicon & syntax. In J. L. Miller & P. D. Eimas (Eds.), Handbook of perception and cognition: Speech, language, and communication (2nd ed., pp. 303–337). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Clark, E. V. & Berman, R. (1987). Types of linguistic knowledge: Interpreting and producing compound nouns. Journal of Child Language, 14, 547–567.
Clark, E. V., Gelman, S. A., & Lane, N. M. (1985). Compound nouns and category structure in young children. Child Development, 56, 84–94. doi:10.2307/1130176.
Deacon, S. H., & Kirby, J. R. (2004). Morphological awareness: Just “more phonological”? The roles of morphological and phonological awareness in reading development. Applied Psycholinguistics, 25, 223–238. doi:10.1017/S0142716404001110.
Derwing, B. L., & Baker, W. J. (1977). The psychological basis of morphological rules. In J. MacNamara (Ed.), Language, learning and thought. New York: Academic Press.
Fowler, A., & Liberman, I. Y. (1995). The role of phonology and orthography in morphological awareness. In L. Feldman (Ed.), Morphological aspects of language processing (pp. 157–188). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.
Geva, E. (2007). Facets of metalinguistic awareness related to reading acquisition in Hebrew: Evidence from monolingual and bilingual children. In K. Koda & A. Zehler (Eds.), Learning to reading across languages (pp. 154–187). Erlbaum.
Gombert, J. E. (1992). Metalinguistic development. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Goswami, U., & Bryant, P. (1990). Phonological skills and learning to read. London: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Ho, C. S.-H., & Bryant, P. (1997). Phonological skills are important in learning to read Chinese. Developmental Psychology, 33, 946–951. doi:10.1037/0012-16126.96.36.1996.
Ku, Y. M., & Anderson, R. C. (2003). Development of morphological awareness in Chinese and English. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 16, 399–422.
Kuo, L. -J., & Anderson, R. C. (2006). Morphological awareness and learning to read: A cross-language perspective. Educational Psychologist, 41, 161–180. doi:10.1207/s15326985ep4103_3.
Levin, I., Ravid, D., & Rapaport, S. (2001). Morphology and spelling among Hebrew-speaking children: From kindergarten to first grade. Journal of Child Language, 28, 741–772.
Li, W., Anderson, R.C., Nagy, W., & Zhang, H. (2002). Facets of metalinguistic awareness that contribute to Chinese literacy. In W. Li, J. S. Gaffney, & J. L. Packard (Eds.), Chinese childern’s reading acquisition: Theoretical and pedagogical issues. London: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Liu, Y. Y. (2006). Age of acquisition and its role in Chinese visual word processing. Unpublished doctorial dissertation. Beijing Normal University.
Lyytinen, P., & Lyytinen, H. (2004). Growth and predictive relations of vocabulary and inflectional morphology in children with and without familial risk for dyslexia. Applied Psycholinguistics, 25, 397–411. doi:10.1017/S0142716404001183.
Mahony, D., Singson, M., & Mann, V. (2000). Reading ability and sensitivity to morphological relations. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 12, 191–218.
McBride-Chang, C., Bialystok, E., Chong, K.-K. Y., & Li, Y. (2004). Levels of phonological awareness in three cultures. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 89, 93–111. doi:10.1016/j.jecp.2004.05.001.
McBride-Chang, C., Cheung, H., Chow, B. W.-Y., Chow, C.S.-L., & Choi, L. (2006). Metalinguistic skills and vocabulary knowledge in Chinese (L1) and English (L2). Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 19, 695–716.
McBride-Chang, C., Cho, J.-R., Liu, H. Y., Wagner, R. K., Shu, H., Zhou, A. B., et al. (2005). Changing models across cultures: Associations of phonological awareness and morphological structure awareness with vocabulary and word recognition in second graders from Beijing, Hong Kong, Korea, and the United States. Journal of Experimental child Psychology, 92, 140–160. doi:10.1016/j.jecp.2005.03.009.
McBride-Chang, C., Shu, H., Ng, J. Y. W., Meng, X., & Penney, T., (2007). Morphological structure awareness, vocabulary, and reading. In R. K. Wagner, A. E. Muse, & K. R. Tannenbaum (Eds.), Vocabulary acquisition: Implications for reading comprehension (pp. 104–122). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
McBride-Chang, C., Shu, H., Zhou, A., Wat, C. P., & Wagner, R. K. (2003). Morphological awareness uniquely predicts young children’s Chinese character recognition. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95, 743–751. doi:10.1037/0022-06188.8.131.523.
McBride-Chang, C., Tardif, T., Cho, J. –R., Shu, H., Fletcher, P., Stokes, S. F., Wong, A., & Leung, K. (in press). What’s in a word? Morphological awareness and vocabulary knowledge in three languages. Applied Psycholinguistics.
Nagy, W., & Anderson, R. C. (1984). How many words are there in printed school English?. Reading Research Quarterly, 19, 304–330. doi:10.2307/747823.
Nagy, W., & Scott, J. A. (1990). Word schemas: Expectations about the form and meaning of new words. Cognition and Instruction, 7, 105–127. doi:10.1207/s1532690xci0702_2.
Nagy, W., Berninger, V. W., & Abbott, R. D. (2006). Contributions of morphology beyond phonology to literacy outcomes of upper elementary and middle-school students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98, 134–147. doi:10.1037/0022-06184.108.40.206.
Nagy, W., Berninger, V., Abbott, R., Vaughan, K., & Vermeulen, K. (2003). Relationship of morphology and other language skills to literacy skills in at-risk second-grade readers and at-risk fourth-grade writers. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95, 730–742. doi:10.1037/0022-06220.127.116.110.
Nicoladis, E. (2003). What compound nouns mean to preschool children. Brain and Language, 84, 38–49. doi:10.1016/S0093-934X(02)00519-9.
Plaza, M., & Cohen, H. (2003). The interaction between phonological processing, syntactic awareness, and naming speed in the reading and spelling performance of first-grade children. Brain and Cognition, 53, 287–292. doi:10.1016/S0278-2626(03)00128-3.
Plaza, M., & Cohen, H. (2004). Predictive influence of phonological processing, morphological/syntactic skill, and naming speed on spelling performance. Brain and Cognition, 55, 368–373. doi:10.1016/j.bandc.2004.02.076.
Ravid, D. (2002). A developmental perspective on root perception in Hebrew, Palestinian Arabic. In J. Shimron (Ed.), Language processing and acquisition in languages of Semitic, root-based morphology (pp. 293–319). Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Ravid, D., & Bar-On, A. (2005). Manipulating written Hebrew roots across development: The interface of semantic, phonological and orthographic factors. Reading and Writing, 18, 231–256. doi:10.1007/s11145-005-1802-5.
Saiegh-Haddad, E., & Geva, E. (in press). Phonemic and Morphemic Skill Components in English-Arabic Bilingual Reading Acquisition. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal.
Shu, H., Chen, X., Anderson, R. C., Wu, N. N., & Xuan, Y. (2003). Properties of school Chinese: Implications for learning to read. Child Development, 74, 27–47. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.00519.
Shu, H., McBride-Chang, C., Wu, S., & Liu, H. Y. (2006). Understanding Chinese developmental dyslexia: Morphological awareness as a core cognitive construct. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98, 122–133. doi:10.1037/0022-0618.104.22.168.
Singson, M., Mahony, D., & Mann, V. (2000). The relation between reading ability and morphological skills: Evidence from derivational suffixes. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 12, 219–252.
Snodgrass, J. G., & Vanderwart, M. A. (1980). A standardized set of 260 pictures: Norms for name agreement, image agreement, familiarity, and visual complexity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 6, 174–215. doi:10.1037/0278-7322.214.171.124.
Sun, H. L., Sun, D. J., Huang, J. P., Li, D. J., & Xing, H. B. (1996). The description on the corpus system of modern Chinese studies. In Z. S. Luo & S. L. Yuan (Eds.), Studies of Chinese and Chinese character in the computer era. Tsinghua University Publisher.
Wang, M., Cheng, C. X., & Chen, S.-W. (2006). Contribution of morphological awareness to Chinese-English biliteracy acquisition. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98, 542–553. doi:10.1037/0022-06126.96.36.1992.
Windsor, J. (2000). The role of phonological opacity in reading achievement. Journal of speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 43, 50–61.
Yin, B. Y. (1984). Quantitative analysis of Chinese morpheme. Chinese, 5, 338–347. (in Chinese).
Yuan, C. F., & Huang, C. N. (1998). Chinese morphemes and compounds: A corpus study. Applications of Languages and Writing Systems, 3, 7–12 (in Chinese).
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.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
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, 615–631 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-008-9127-9
- Chinese compound awareness
- Character reading
- Phonological awareness