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ESRC/RGC Joint Research Scheme - Fifth Round - Layman Summaries of Projects Funded

Comparable and Parallel Corpus Approaches to the Third Code: English and Chinese Perspectives

Hong Kong Principal Investigator: Dr. Dechao Li (The Hong Kong Polytechnic University)
UK Principal Investigator: Dr. Richard Xiao(Lancaster University)

Translating is a kind of mediated communication. As a result, the effect of the source language on the translation is strong enough to make the translational language perceptibly different from the target native language. The degree of deviation of the translational language can be assessed by studying the distinctive features of the translational language on the basis of contrastive analyses of translated texts and their comparable native texts in the target language (i.e. using the comparable corpus approach), while the extent of source language "shining through" in translations can be identified by comparing the source texts and their translations (i.e. using the parallel corpus approach).

The project is a corpus-based study of the common linguistic and textual features of translations, from the perspectives of English and Chinese, two "genetically" distinct major languages in the world, by taking a composite methodology that combines comparable and parallel corpus approaches to language studies. The research questions of the project include: What linguistic and textual features, if any, do translated English texts and translated Chinese texts have in common? What roles do genres/registers play in the distribution such common features in different usage contexts in English and Chinese? Are there any such features from translated English and translated Chinese, given the typological distinctiveness of the two languages, which can potentially be generalised as "translation universals"? To what extent, and why, are certain features of translated texts transferred from the source language?

The project addresses these questions by investigating a one-million-word balanced comparable corpus of translated English and a one-million-word balanced parallel corpus that covers the same genres and sampling periods as in the English and Chinese comparable corpora. Quantitative and qualitative approaches will be taken in analysing the comparable and parallel corpora at word, phrase, clause, sentence and discourse levels.

A Cross-Cultural Study of Family Influences on Executive Functions in Late Childhood

Hong Kong Principal Investigator: Prof Florrie Fei-yin Ng (The Chinese University of Hong Kong)
UK Principal Investigator: Dr. Michelle Ellefson (University of Cambridge)

Executive functions refer to a set of higher-order processes involved in goal-directed behaviors (e.g., inhibitory control, working memory, cognitive flexibility, and planning). Children's executive functions have been linked to their academic achievement and may be influenced by parents' practices. Although recent research indicates that children from Asia are more advanced in their executive functions than their North American and European counterparts, much of this work focuses on early childhood. It remains unclear whether there are cross-cultural differences in executive functions among older children and adults. Moreover, prior research has rarely tested the assumption that executive function tasks are culturally fair and index the same cognitive and social processes across cultures. The current research, which involves a total of 600 children and their mothers in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong, is designed to address these issues. It will seek to improve the measurement of children's executive functions by developing culturally-fair tasks that are suitable for use across a broad range of ages. Moreover, it will examine, both within and across cultures, the link between executive functions and academic achievement, as well as the extent that parental factors influence this link.

Alpha territoriality in Hong Kong and London: The local implications of transnational real estate investment by the super-rich

Hong Kong Principal Investigator: Dr. Willem Lubert Wissink (City University of Hong Kong)
UK Principal Investigator: Dr. Rowland Atkinson (University of York)

Social research has tended not to focus on the super-rich, largely because they are hard to locate, and even harder to collaborate with in research. In this project we seek to address these concerns by focusing extensive research effort on the question of where and how the super-rich live and invest in the property markets of the cities of Hong Kong and London. We see these cities as exemplary in assisting in the construction of further insights and knowledge in how the super-rich seek residential investment opportunities, how they live there when they are 'at home' in such residences and how these patterns of investment shape the social, political and economic life of these cities more broadly. Given that the super-rich make such decisions on the basis of tax incentives and the attraction of major cultural infrastructure (such as galleries and theatre) we have proposed a program of research capable of offering an inside account of the practices that go to make-up these investment patterns including processes of searching for suitable property, its financing, the kinds of property deemed to be suitable and an analysis of how estate agents and city authorities seek to capitalise and retain the potentially highly mobile investment by the super-rich.

In economic terms the life and functioning of rich neighbourhood spaces appears intuitively important. For example, attractive and safe spaces for captains of industry, senior figures in political and non-government organizations are often regarded as major markers of urban vitality and the foundation of social networks that may make-up the broader glue of civic and political society. Yet we know very little about how such neighbourhoods operate, who they attract and how they are linked to other cities and their neighbourhoods globally. Our aim in this research is to grapple with what might be described as the 'problem' of these super-rich neighbourhoods - sometime called the 'alpha territory' - and undertake research that will help us to understand more about the advantages and disadvantages of these kinds of property investment.

The life and impact of the residential choices of the 'super rich' has been a major strand in research by the research team. This work advanced the proposition that the upper-tier of income groups living in cities tend to exploit particular forms of service provision (such as education, cultural life and personal services), are largely distanced from the mundane flow of social life in urban areas and tend to be withdrawn from the civic life of cities more generally. Some of this work is underpinned by the literature on, for example, gated communities, but it has surprisingly been under-used as the guiding framework for close empirical work in affluent neighbourhoods, perhaps largely as a result of the perceived difficulty of working with such individuals. This project will allow us to generate insights into how super-rich neighbourhoods operate, how people come to live there and the social and economic tensions and trade-offs that exist as such processes are allowed to run. As many people question the role and value of wealth and identify inequality as a growing social problem this research will feed into public conversations and policymaker concerns about how socially vital cities can be maintained when capital investment may undermine such objectives on one level (the creation of neighbourhoods that are both exclusive and often 'abandoned' for large parts of the year), while potentially fulfilling broader ambitions at others (over tax receipts for example).

Cross Cultural Differences in Biased Cognition

Hong Kong Principal Investigator: Dr. Timothea Toulopoulou (The University of Hong Kong)
UK Principal Investigator: Dr. Jenny Yiend (King's College London)

The way in which we process information in the world around us has a significant effect on our health and well-being. For example, some people are more prone than others to notice potential dangers, to remember bad things from the past and assume the worst, when the meaning of an event or comment is uncertain. These tendencies are called negative cognitive biases and can lead to low mood and poor quality of life. They also make people vulnerable to mental illnesses. In contrast, those with positive cognitive biases tend to function well and remain healthy. To date most of this work has been conducted on white, western populations and we do not know whether similar cognitive biases exist in Eastern cultures. This project will examine cognitive biases in Eastern (Hong Kong nationals) and Western (UK nationals) people to see whether there are any differences between the two. It will also examine what happens to cognitive biases when someone migrates to a different culture. This will tell us whether influences from the society and culture around us have any effect on our cognitive biases. Finally the project will consider how much our own cognitive biases are inherited from our parents. Together these results will tell us whether the known good and bad effects of cognitive biases apply to non-Western cultural groups as well, and how much cognitive biases are decided by our genes or our environment.

(Re)Imagining Youth: A Comparative Sociology of Youth Leisure in Scotland and Hong Kong

Hong Kong Principal Investigator: Dr. Alistair Fraser (The University of Hong Kong)
UK Principal Investigator: Dr. Susan Batchelor (University of Glasgow)

In recent years, the 'global' question has become central to debate in the social sciences. For some, processes of globalisation have created increased homogeneity of culture in geographically diverse communities; for others, the effects of globalisation are both heterogeneous and unpredictable, as global and local cultures conflict and merge. Such debates are all the more prescient in non-Western settings, as postcolonial perspectives challenge Western analyses of culture and identity. Layered into these seemingly new debates, however, are longstanding sociological issues relating to class, place and identity; access to 'global' culture remains sharply stratified by access to resources. These debates have a particular resonance with young people, who experience both the precariousness of the global economy, and the leading-edge of global consumer culture. Comparative study of youth between East and West, therefore, has the potential to interrogate theoretical debates relating to globalisation, postcolonialism and culture in a way that is both timely and targeted.

(Re)Imagining Youth aims to engage with these debates through analysis of continuity and change in youth leisure in two geographically and culturally diverse research sites: Scotland and Hong Kong. The study adopts a historical and crosscultural comparative design, building on landmark research carried out in both study locations by the pioneering sociologist Pearl Jephcott (1967, 1971). Scotland and Hong Kong have experienced economic convergence since these studies were published, yet remain culturally distinct; thus creating a unique test-bed for analysis of global and local forces on youth leisure in a comparative context. Areas of thematic convergence and divergence include, for example, street-based vs. online leisure; structured vs. unstructured leisure; youth transitions; work and education; 'risky' leisure (drinking, smoking, gambling, fighting, offending); consumerism and consumption.

Responding to recent calls for new forms of global qualitative methodologies, the study will involve concurrent data-collection in case-study locations in Scotland and Hong Kong - including ethnographic observations, stakeholder interviews, focus group discussions, oral history interviews, and on-line data-collection - using common procedures to ensure comparability. Approximately 150 young people aged 16-24, with a cross-section of age, gender, socio-economic background, and work/study status, will be recruited through local youth organisations in both case-study locations. In addition, in recognition of the increasing importance of on-line leisure spaces for young people, these methods will be complemented by a range of ethnographic and interview data from young people's online environments. Together, these data will allow for a unique contribution to a range of academic and public debates at local, national and international levels.

Language-specific and language-general influences on reading comprehension development: comparisons between an alphabetic and morphographic script

Hong Kong Principal Investigator: Dr. Xiuli Tong (The University of Hong Kong)
UK Principal Investigator: Dr. Kate Cain (Lancaster University)

Successful reading skills are essential for full engagement in today's society because, in addition to education and employment, a range of cultural and social activities rely on the ability to efficiently and accurately assimilate information from text. An independent and successful reader must develop both adequate word reading and reading comprehension. Our focus is to advance knowledge about the development of reading comprehension, the goal of most reading.

Our research will build on evidence that an understanding of morphemes (morphological awareness) is related to a child's reading comprehension level. Morphemes are the smallest meaning units within (spoken) words, e.g., 'un' is a morpheme that when added to a base word indicates 'not', as in 'unhappy'. An understanding of morphemes is critical for understanding complex multi-morphemic English words such as 'unhappy', 'happier', 'unhappiness', and how they are related.

We aim to further our understanding of the relationship between morphological awareness and reading comprehension by comparing two groups of readers: English children learning to read English, and Hong Kong Chinese children who are learning to read Chinese and English in parallel. The reason for studying these two groups of young readers is that the English and Chinese writing systems place a different emphasis on morphemes. The English writing system represents the spoken sounds of the language, whereas the Chinese writing system represents the morphemes. Thus, to read an unfamiliar word aloud in English the beginner reader has to sound out the letters. Typically, young readers often know the meanings of words that they have not seen before in their printed form. By sounding out the word, the young reader can access the word meaning in his/her spoken lexicon. In contrast, beginner readers of Chinese cannot 'sound out' words: there are few clues to the pronunciation of Chinese words, but because the writing system represents the morphemes there are clues to the word meanings, even if the actual word has not been seen before in its printed form. For example, the semantic radical for sun is also used in the written forms of other words such as warm and evening, as well as shine, all sun-related concepts.

We have three aims:
1) We will compare the influence of morphological awareness on reading comprehension in a child's first language, comparing English and Chinese first language learners, who are beginner, intermediate, and advanced readers to identify changes in the relation across early literacy development. For English, we propose that morphological awareness will be most important for advanced young readers, because more complex texts have a greater number of multi-morphemic words. In contrast, we propose that Chinese morphological awareness will influence Chinese first language reading from the earliest stages of reading because the writing system represents morphemes.

2) We seek to determine if the influence of morphological awareness is language-general or language-specific by comparing its influence on the English reading comprehension of the two groups. If morphological awareness is language general, it should have a more important influence on beginner readers' English reading comprehension for the Hong Kong Chinese group because they are attuned to morphology early in reading development. If the influence is language-specific, morphological awareness should influence English reading comprehension similarly in both groups.

3) We seek to understand why the English reading comprehension of Hong Kong Chinese readers does not keep apace with their English word reading. We expect that the reading comprehension proficiency gap, found in other second language groups, may be influenced by language-specific morphological awareness.

The knowledge generated through this work will influence reading development theory and also pedagogy for first and second language learners.

Hong Kong as a Source for Education Policy in England: Rhetoric and Reality

Hong Kong Principal Investigator: Prof Robert Damian (The Hong Kong Institute of Education)
UK Principal Investigator: Prof Paul Morris (Institute of Education)

As political parties in England compete to promote their vision of schooling, their plans for reform are often based on the claim that what they are proposing is a feature of one or all of the high performing East Asian societies that do well on international tests of pupil achievement e.g. the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). For instance, the 2010 Schools White Paper in England and the on-going review of the National Curriculum extensively cite practices in Hong Kong to support their policies. Also, agencies now bidding to get contracts to examine the New Baccalaureate have to demonstrate that they will follow the best practices of high performing nations.

Some of these claims seem far removed from the reality that the Principal Investigators have experienced both as academics and as participants in policy making and policy implementation in Hong Kong. What is more worrying is that these claims are largely unchallenged in England. The claims are accepted partly because people there tend to have limited knowledge of foreign education systems, and comparative educators have tended to avoid engagement in public debates relating to on-going policy making about how schools should be reformed. The purpose of this study is to help address that situation. We plan to focus on how policy makers in England portray features of Hong Kong's education system to promote their own domestic reforms. We examine the nature of these features in Hong Kong by finding out what the relevant laws or rules are, and by interviewing people who are directly involved with these education features. This will allow us to find out the extent to which the claims made in England are valid and accurate. It will also allow us to contribute to the on-going debates in comparative education as to the influence of global and local factors on education reform.

Our study therefore has the potential to inform academic debates in both comparative education and national policy analysis. It will also make a significant contribution to the various stakeholders who contribute to, and are affected by, education reform, but do not have the expertise to evaluate or assess the claims that underpin these reforms.

China, Hong Kong, and the Long 1970s in Global Perspective

Hong Kong Principal Investigator: Dr. Priscilla Mary Roberts (The University of Hong Kong)
UK Principal Investigator: Prof Odd Arne Westad (London School of Economics and Political Science)

This project seeks to enhance our understanding of current international political and economic developments by examining in greater detail one of the key historical periods that engendered them: the 1970s. A team of 17 historians from 9 institutions in Great Britain, Hong Kong, and Macau (British PI: Prof. Odd Arne Westad of the London School of Economics and Political Science; Hong Kong PI: Dr. Priscilla Roberts, School of Humanities, HKU) propose an in-depth re-evaluation of what the 1970s meant for Asia, especially China and Hong Kong, and the repercussions of those developments on today's geopolitical and economic context. The objective is to produce a carefully focused volume of essays placing developments in China and Hong Kong in the Long 1970s in global perspective. Increasingly, historians perceive the "Long 1970s" as a pivotal decade in twentieth-century history. The hypothesis of the collective research is that during this decade, which in the West was seen as anti-climactic, a period of depression and crisis, China and Hong Kong embarked on the journey of transformation that has brought them on the stage of prominence today. The project will therefore endeavor to place recent tectonic shifts in the global balance of economic and political power between East and West in the context of the historical dynamic that has shaped them.