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Linguistic constraints on the cross-linguistic variations in L2 word recognition


This study investigated how experience with a first language (L1) writing system affects the development of the second language (L2) word recognition subskills and how L2 linguistic knowledge constrains such L1 impacts. In this study, word recognition is conceptualized as a complex construct that entails multiple subskills necessary for identifying a word based on the linguistic information (phonology and morphology) encoded in its visual form. To capture the complexity of the construct, we measured three word-form analysis skills, including orthographic, grapho-phonological, and grapho-morphological processing subskills. We then compared their relative contributions to word-meaning retrieval and reading comprehension among fifty-two college-level Chinese students who learned English in the U.S. The results demonstrated that while orthographic processing subskills were a significant predictor of word-meaning retrieval, grapho-morphological processing subskills were the only factor contributing to text comprehension. In addition, our data revealed that L2 linguistic knowledge played differential roles in mediating the contribution of the L2 word-form analysis skills to word-meaning retrieval and reading comprehension. These findings suggest that L2 word recognition development is constrained not only by previously acquired reading skills and but also by emerging knowledge of the target language. We discussed how the notion of script relativity encapsulates such complex cross-linguistic interactions among morpho-syllabic Chinese (L1), morpho-phonemic English (L2) writing systems, and L2 linguistic knowledge in L2 word recognition development.

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  1. The Cronbach α of the vocabulary test is not available as it is conducted on the third-party online platform ( The test produces a holistic score for each participant rather than individual score for each question.

  2. Audio data loss is almost inevitable in the online experiment, which was adopted due to the impact of the pandemic. We used the maximum likelihood with missing values when conducting the path analysis that involved the grapho-phonological processing subskills. The technique allowed us to minimize the possible effect of the missing values in the grapho-phonological processing subskills.


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Correspondence to Keiko Koda.

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Li, X., Koda, K. Linguistic constraints on the cross-linguistic variations in L2 word recognition. Read Writ 35, 1401–1424 (2022).

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  • Word recognition
  • L2 reading
  • L2 linguistic knowledge
  • L1 writing system