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Chuchu Li on the relationship between writing systems and spoken language in Memory & Cognition

Does the way that you write your language affect how you speak it too? New research by Chuchu Li (HDQM), Min Wang (HDQM) and Bill Idsardi (LING) being published in Memory & Cognition suggests that it does. School children in China learn two systems for writing Mandarin. One is an alphabetic system using Latin letters, called Pinyin. The other uses Chinese characters and is called the morpho-syllabic system. Each Chinese character can be pronounced as a syllable and represents a meaning unit, similar to the rebus below - a much-simplified analogy of how the process would work in English. (Can you read it?) 

A more precise description of the Chinese writing system can be illustrated through the use of the Chinese character for fire, resembling a pictographic representation of fire, pronounced ‘huo3’ (huo-with a low tone):

Previous research had shown that reading a Chinese character primes the reader for saying a whole syllable. The new research by Li, Wang and Idsardi shows that reading alphabetic writing in Chinese primes readers only for the first part of the syllable, not for the whole syllable. This finding highlights the important role of written language in people's spoken language production. Pedagogically, appropriate orthographic cues may help improve language learners' sensitivity to specific phonological information.

As part of the interdisciplinary graduate program established in 2008, students carry out a research rotation with a mentor outside their home department. The publication is the result of interdisciplinary work carried out in the context of Chuchu Li’s research rotation with Bill Idsardi in the Linguistics Department. As rotation advisor, Idsardi provided guidance to Chuchu offering feedback from the design stage, to stimuli preparation, interpretation of results, and the process of data analysis.The acceptance of the article “is a very good example of how IGERT [the graduate training program] supported a student’s collaborative project that bridges the research interests across different areas,” explains Min Wang, the student’s academic advisor and co-author on the paper.

Chuchu Li is a 5th year PhD student in the department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology and a graduate fellow in language science. Besides her successful research project, Chuchu demonstrated her leadership skills having organized events that bring together the language science community at UMD and beyond, such as the annual Winter Storm workshop and Language Science Day.

The full reference for the article is:

Li, C., Wang, M. & Idsardi, W. (in press). The Effect of Orthographic Form-Cuing on Phonological Preparation Unit in Spoken Word Production. Memory & Cognition. doi: 10.3758/s13421-014-0484-0

Monday, December 1, 2014
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