Issue No 10: August 2005
Total of $60m funding announced for public policy research
Q&A: PIs taking leave exceeding 183 days
Visit to Lingnan University
Oxygen-scarce oceans threaten fish survival
Natural anti-fouling compounds found in study of coral and sponges
Shellfish used as a fish farm biofilter
World's largest child bilingualism database helps linguistics research
Morpheme awareness clue to Chinese language ability
Ancient language links to modern Chinese

A child is shown a prompt card with a spider’s web (the left card held in the photo by Dr Catherine McBride-Chang of The Chinese University of Hong Kong). The child is then shown another card with an ant on a web (the right card) and asked what it is. A good answer, showing morphological awareness, said Dr McBride-Chang, would be “ant web.”
Dr McBride-Chang and prompt cards
Morphological awareness, the ability to combine familiar spoken units of meaning or morphemes to create new meanings, can be used as an indicator of a child’s reading development, especially in Chinese, says Dr McBride-Chang. In English, however, the equivalent important skill is phonological awareness, the ability to make words from different combinations of phonemes, or speech sounds, typically represented as individual letters. For example, if asked to say “split” without the /p/ sound, a child should be able to answer “slit.”
Phonological awareness has been used by researchers as a “predictor” of skill in using alphabet-based languages for years. But Dr McBride-Chang believes morphological awareness can be just as successfully applied to predict ability in Chinese.
To illustrate that improved morphological awareness comes with greater skill in reading, she tested 100 kindergarten and 100 second grade children in Hong Kong and found that, consistently across groups, morphological awareness was the only unique predictor of Chinese character recognition beyond the variance accounted for by phonological awareness, vocabulary knowledge, and many other reading-related skills.
Another study by Dr McBride-Chang found that morpho-logical awareness and word recognition are strongly associated with second graders in Hong Kong, Beijing and Korea, but not for their counterparts in the United States. In contrast, phonological awareness is found important in reading English as well as Korean which is alphasyllabic and has 50 percent of words borrowed from Chinese but not for the Chinese samples.
Dr McBride-Chang believes that using morphological awareness as a predictor can not only diagnose potential language problems such as dyslexia and language delay but can also be used as an aid to language learning.

Principal Investigator
Dr Catherine McBride-Chang :