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A Comparative Study of Radical Awareness by the Learners of Chinese as a Second Language from Chinese- and Non-Chinese-Character Spheres
Chun-yin Doris Chen
Kuan-yuan Francis Chen
second language acquisition
semantic radical awareness
The present study aims to investigate the awareness of radicals by the learners of Chinese as a second language (CSL) from Chinese- and Non-Chinese-Character spheres. Three comprehension tasks (i.e., a character decision task (CD Task), a character meaning task (CM Task) and a semantic cueing function task (SCF Task)) were conducted to examine the participants’ implicit knowledge of Chinese radicals and whether they could make use of such knowledge in identifying legal characters as well as retrieving the meanings of unfamiliar characters. Three factors, including language background, language proficiency, character transparency, and context, were manipulated to examine their influences on the participants’ radical awareness. A total of 20 western and 20 Japanese high- and low-intermediate CSL learners were recruited as experimental groups, together with 10 native adults as controls. The major findings are summarized below: 1. Remarkable performances were found in the identification of ill-formed target characters throughout every experimental group, indicating that all the participants had the awareness of radicals in terms of its positional regularity. 2. The performance in character meaning inference was crucially dependent upon character transparency. The meaning association was triggered more effortlessly with semantic radicals in transparent target characters, whereas in opaque characters the participants resorted to phonetic radicals more frequently. 3. The facilitation of context was attested in meaning retrieval of unfamiliar characters. In most cases the supplement of contextual clues was helpful for the participants, especially for those in the Non-Chinese-Character sphere low-intermediate group. 4. Proficiency effect was evidenced in the comparison between any two experimental groups having similar language backgrounds. What is more, transfer effects were found negative among Chinese-character sphere groups in their identification of pseudo-characters and opaque character meaning retrieval, showing that language transfer from similar L1 to L2 would fail under certain conditions. As mentioned above, the manipulated factors were to some extent influential in the participants’ performance of radical awareness. Furthermore, the results also showed that a gradual mastery of this implicit knowledge was acquired by the participants along with their increasing exposure in Chinese learning.
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