chapter  12
Metalinguistic and subcharacter skills in Chinese literacy acquisition
ByXIULI TONG, PHIL D. LIU AND CATHERINE MCBRIDE-CHANG
Pages 17

Chinese children’s literacy development is an important issue for developmental and educational psychology for at least two reasons. First, both reading and spelling form the foundation of children’s learning (e.g. Adams, 1990). Given that approximately 20 per cent of the world’s population is Chinese and that the booming Chinese economy has increased interest in learning Chinese around the world, how individuals, particularly children, go about mastering this unique orthography and whether difficulties in its mastery can be ameliorated using research findings are timely questions. Second, Chinese has its own unique orthographic, phonological, and morphological systems, and the complexity of these systems contrasts strongly with English and other alphabetic languages, about which is more currently known in the literature. The linguistic and cognitive skills underpinning the Chinese language system, particularly in relation to the availability of phonological and morphological units, may be somewhat different from that of English and other alphabetic languages due to its logographic nature. This chapter focuses on the process of Chinese children’s reading and spelling acquisition to highlight some of the controversies and challenges in learning Chinese. A developmental approach to literacy acquisition in Chinese is helpful in a number

of ways. First, an investigation of the developmental routes of Chinese word reading and spelling might shed light on the issue of universals and specifics of language acquisition and development in relation to Chinese orthography. Second, different cognitive correlates of Chinese that do not conform to alphabetic reading can pinpoint how roles of different linguistic or metalinguistic skills are determined by the way in which spoken language is encoded in a given orthography. Third, this developmental approach to Chinese might provide some new ideas on educational intervention and practice. In the first section of this chapter, the uniqueness of the Chinese orthography

is briefly described. As Shu and Anderson (1999) argued, learning to read and write ‘requires becoming aware of the basic units of spoken language, the basic units of the writing system, and the mapping between the two’ (p. 1). This metalinguistic awareness, involving both reflection upon and manipulation of structural features of language (Nagy, 2007), will therefore be the focus of the second section. In particular, we will highlight phonological and morphological awareness in relation to early Chinese reading acquisition. Finally, we will consider current educational findings and controversies in the study of Chinese word reading and spelling.