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Award Abstract #0951741

Doctoral Dissertation Research: Semantic and Phonological Activation in First and Second Language Reading

Division Of Behavioral and Cognitive Sci
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Initial Amendment Date: April 27, 2010
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Latest Amendment Date: April 27, 2010
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Award Number: 0951741
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Award Instrument: Standard Grant
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Program Manager: Joan Maling
BCS Division Of Behavioral and Cognitive Sci
SBE Direct For Social, Behav & Economic Scie
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Start Date: May 1, 2010
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End Date: April 30, 2012 (Estimated)
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Awarded Amount to Date: $11,700.00
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Investigator(s): Catherine Harris charris@bu.edu (Principal Investigator)
Hui-Wen Cheng (Co-Principal Investigator)
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Sponsor: Trustees of Boston University
BOSTON, MA 02215-1300 (617)353-4365
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Program Reference Code(s): 1311, 9179, SMET
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Program Element Code(s): 1311


Highly regular orthographies that encode sound in a transparent manner (e.g., Spanish) are referred to as shallow orthographies, while those with irregular spelling-to-sound mappings like English are referred to as deep orthographies. According to the Orthographic Depth Hypothesis, the process of reading a shallow orthography activates more phonological information than reading a deep orthography, because the former encodes phonological information in a more transparent way. This cross-orthography study will investigate how the orthographic depth of a writing system influences semantic and phonological activation when reading a first language (L1) versus a second language (L2). The first goal of the present study is to attempt to extend the predictive power of the Orthographic Depth Hypothesis to semantic activation. Orthographies that only weakly activate phonological information might strongly activate semantic information during reading. A second goal is to better understand orthographic transfer in L2 reading acquisition. The proposed experiments will test the hypothesis that the occurrence of orthographic transfer depends on relative orthographic depth of the L1-L2 pairing.

Both the traditional isolated word method and an innovative sentence priming method will be used to conduct primed semantic category judgment tasks and primed naming tasks to assess priming. This will determine how early semantic and phonological priming effects occur, how strong the priming effects are, and how long the priming effects persist. The participation of 3 groups of L2 learners (i.e., native English speakers, advanced Chinese learners of English, and advanced Spanish learners of English) will allow us to examine the activation patterns of English and Chinese, and whether L1 literacy background influences L2 activation patterns.

The proposed study will extend current knowledge of how orthography shapes cognitive mechanism and how L1 orthography influences L2 learning. One of the implications for education is that the transparency differences in phonology between L1 and L2 orthographies can influence learners' performance in L2 reading. Specific teaching methods should be designed to help learners adjust their activation patterns to L2 orthography.


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