Self-teaching among Chinese college students: The roles of phonetic and semantic radicals

Self-teaching among Chinese college students: The roles of phonetic and semantic radicals

First Author: Annie Yixun Li -- University of Maryland, College Park
Additional authors/chairs: 
Hong Li; Xuelian Zhou
Keywords: Orthographic learning, Self-teaching, Regularity, Semantic transparency, Chinese
Abstract / Summary: 

Adults continue to acquire new words on a daily basis. Previous research on orthographic learning via self-teaching heavily focuses on children. The current study aimed to fill this gap by examining the roles of phonetic and semantic radicals on self-teaching among Chinese college students.

Thirty-six college students in Mainland China were asked to read aloud and comprehend twelve short stories, each which included one pseudo-character appearing totally four times. Each story described a novel object named by a compound pseudo-character, a novel combination of a real phonetic radical and a real semantic radical in their legal positions. The regularity of phonetic radicals (regular vs. semi-regular vs. irregular,) and the transparency of semantic radicals (transparent vs. opaque) were manipulated. Participants needed to orally answer two comprehension questions after reading each story to ensure that they indeed focused on comprehending the stories. Orthographic learning outcomes were measured by orthographic choice, naming, and character writing tasks, immediately after story reading and again three days later for retention.

Results show that adults demonstrated robust orthographic learning across all learning conditions on all posttests, and maintain their learning outcomes for at least three days. A facilitative effect of transparent semantic radicals was showed on the orthographic choice task, which measured the orthography-meaning association, while no effect of phonetic radicals or interaction. However, the facilitation of regular phonetic radicals was detected on the naming and character writing tasks, which assessed the orthography-phonology mapping, while no effect of semantic radicals or interaction.

These findings altogether unveil a unique role of phonetic and semantic radicals in the acquisition of word-specific orthographic representations in Chinese and extend the findings from children population to college students empirically.