Reading in a Second Language
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Reading in a Second Language

Cognitive and Psycholinguistic Issues

Xi Chen, Vedran Dronjic, Rena Helms-Park

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eBook - ePub

Reading in a Second Language

Cognitive and Psycholinguistic Issues

Xi Chen, Vedran Dronjic, Rena Helms-Park

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About This Book

Reading in a Second Language offers a comprehensive survey of the phenomenon and process of reading in a second language, with graduate and upper-level undergraduate students in second language acquisition, psycholinguistics, and applied psychology as its primary audience. The book explores reading processes from a number of complementary standpoints, integrating perspectives from fields such as first and second language reading, second language acquisition, linguistics, psycholinguistics, and cognitive neuroscience. The first half examines major factors in second language reading: types of scripts, the cognitive and neural substrates of reading; metalinguistic awareness, word recognition, language transfer, and lexical knowledge. The second part of the book discusses the social and educational contexts in which reading development occurs, including issues related to pedagogy, the use of technology in the classroom, reading disorders, and policy making. Reading in a Second Language provides students with a full, logically organized overview of the primary factors that shape reading development and processes in a second language.

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From proto-writing to multimedia literacy

Scripts and orthographies through the ages
Rena Helms-Park, Vedran Dronjic, and Shawna-Kaye Tucker

1. Introduction

We begin this book on reading in a second language with an examination of scripts. Apart from the obvious fact that the reader needs to decode and interpret a text written in a particular script, there are more compelling reasons for examining the systems used to represent linguistic structures in writing. Perhaps foremost among these is the interplay of cognitive skills required to recognize language-specific words, which have their own structural characteristics, in a specific script, which also has its own structural peculiarities. While the “visual word form area” has been shown to be script-neutral (Nakamura, Dehaene, Jobert, Le Bihan, & Kouider, 2005), there are differences in the areas of the brain that are engaged while reading even when the script used is the same, as with Italian and English (Paulesu et al., 2000). The visual word form area responds differentially to differences in bigrams (grapheme pairs in languages), displaying greater partiality to high-frequency pairings in an L1 script than to low-frequency or non-existent ones (Vinckier et al., 2007); the same predilection is displayed when responding to stimuli from one’s own script versus an unknown one (Baker et al., 2007). Thus, it is not surprising that reading in a second script demands proficiency not only in the second language (L2) linguistic code but also in the special ways in which this code is represented in writing. Without some degree of automatization of L2 visual word recognition skills, higher-level processing of a text – and probably even sentence-level comprehension – is either laborious or unachievable. Furthermore, L1 strategies continue to exert an influence on L2 reading at various levels of proficiency, as seen in various behavioural studies (e.g., Chikamatsu, 1996; Cook & Bassetti, 2005; Koda, 2005; Muljani, Koda, & Moates, 1998; Wang & Geva, 2003) as well as L1-L2 brain studies (e.g., Nakada, Fujii, & Kwee, 2001; Tan et al., 2003). Examining the attributes of the scripts in question affords the learner, instructor, or researcher an opportunity to hypothesize what mechanisms are at play in particular cases of biliteracy.
Section 2 provides a history of writing over the last five thousand years. Section 3 presents a description of the world’s scripts, divided into two broad categories: phonographic and morphographic. This section ends with an overview of the orthographic depth hypothesis (Frost, 2005; Katz & Frost, 1992). Section 4 focuses on the sociolinguistic, political, and educational issues surrounding the use of certain scripts by nations or communities, as exemplified by two interesting case studies: digraphic Serbo-Croatian and Jamaican Creole (Patois), a code with a flexible orthography and eminently suitable for “textspeak”.

2. The History of Writing

2.1 The brain’s filters for representing written symbols

There is some consensus in current times that, unlike neural circuits that are heavily engaged in oral language representation and processing (e.g., those found in cortical areas traditionally referred to as Broca’s area or Wernicke’s area), no brain centers have evolved explicitly for the purpose of facilitating reading and writing. Rather, the area that evolved in prehistory to recognize objects (but not faces) is said to have provided the architectural infrastructure for recognizing what are now graphemes in scripts (Changizi, Zhang, Ye, & Shimojo, 2006; Dehaene, 2009; Wolf, 2007). Through a cross-linguistic statistical examination of scripts, Changizi et al. (2006) concluded that certain junctions of lines and ensuing shapes, such as an “L” and “T”, appear with great frequency across scripts. In other words, neurons dedicated to respond to specific shapes (“shape filters”) for the purposes of object recognition were assigned to create and recognize the graphemes of scripts (“neuronal recycling”) (Dehaene, 2009). Scripts have evolved in line with what is “learnable” by the brain, but, in keeping with Dehaene’s neuronal recycling hypothesis, literacy skills require instruction and practice, as opposed to speaking and listening.

2.2 Beginnings of writing and earliest scripts

Writing – in the sense of internally structured systems of visual marks intended to communicate thought among humans by encoding language in an unambiguous and systematic way (Fischer, 2004; Rogers, 2005) – has been invented independently several times in human history, though the number of instances is still not exactly clear (Chrisomalis, 2009). At least two kinds of “recording devices” (Daniels, 1996, p. 21) are known to have existed before the advent of writing: the Neolithic symbols found on objects produced by the Vinča culture (5700–4500 BCE) in present-day Serbia – which visually resemble letters but cannot, at present, be conclusively shown to be a script – as well as Near Eastern clay tokens dating as far back as 8000 BCE, likely used for bookkeeping purposes (Daniels, 1996). In fact, writing systems have had a tendency to emerge in conjunction with numerical notation systems, which have appeared independently at least five times in human history: in Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, Lowland Mesoamerica, Peru, and possibly on a few other occasions.
Scripts independently developed in Mesopotamia, China, Lowland Meso-america, and likely also in Egypt and the Indus Valley (Chrisomalis, 2009; Fischer, 2004). The Indus Valley script has not yet been deciphered, and it is not known what language it might have represented, nor is there universal agreement that it is linguistic in nature. Statistical analysis by Rao et al. (2009) claims to demonstrate that Indus Valley inscriptions have a conditional entropy comparable to that of other linguistic systems, particularly early cuneiform, but the validity of this analysis has been questioned (e.g., Sproat, 2014). (For another undeciphered case of possible early writing, see Macri, 1996b, for an account of rongorongo or “recitation” that once existed on Easter Island.) Meanwhile, the Egyptian script was originally believed to have been an application of the abstract principle of writing developed in Mesopotamia, but there are now indications that writing developed roughly simultaneously in Egypt and Mesopotamia (Cruz-Urube, 2001), with no agreement as to whether one writing system slightly predates the other (Michalowski, 1996). It is noteworthy that, despite the two areas’ relative proximity, Mesopotamian numbers used a variety of notation systems and numerical bases, while the Egyptian numerical notation system used a base of ten and, unlike the case in Mesopotamia, did not serve the same broad bookkeeping purposes (Chrisomalis, 2009; Michalowski, 1996).
The first written Mesopotamian texts appear on clay tablets dated around 3200–3000 BCE and originate from Uruk, situated on the Euphrates River in present-day Iraq. Since early Mesopotamian writing was pictographic in nature (i.e., it did not represent sound but rather meaning), it is difficult to deduce what language is represented on the clay tablets. However, the few known cases of phonological complementation in this early period reveal that the language recorded is Sumerian (Michalowski, 1996). Mesopotamian writing evolved in stages, from tokens being impressed upon a clay envelope; to, possibly, the clay envelope becoming a flat tablet; to the symbols for tokens being drawn on the tablet with a stylus (Michalowski, 1996; Rogers, 2005). Since dragging the stylus through clay was not practical, triangular styluses came to be used to make impressions in the clay, thus giving the script its name, cuneiform or “wedge-shaped” (Rogers, 2005).
The earliest cuneiform symbols were also pictographic in nature, being either an iconic visual representation of the object they stood for (e.g., the picture of a head for the word SAG, “head”), or an abstract representation (e.g., a cross in a circle for the word UDU, “sheep”) (Cooper, 1996). Semantic extension was common. For instance, the symbol depicting a foot was extended to represent the words DU “go” and GUB “stand”. Many symbols were iconic in a metonymic way, such as the symbol for A “water”, which was a depiction of a stream (Rogers, 2005). At any rate, the original pictographic symbols quickly became more stylized (e.g., undergoing a ninety-degree rotation) and eventually became purely symbolic (Cooper, 1996; Rogers, 2005). The symbols were also phonetically extended. For example, the aforementioned symbol for “water”, A, also started being used to mean “in”, since the two words were homophonous. Then finally, the symbol simply came to stand for the syllable /a/ in general.
Cuneiform gradually evolved to represent the complex morphological structure of Sumerian. Symbols for certain affixes appear after 2900 BCE but are consistently found only in the early second millennium, when the language was probably no longer spoken (Cooper, 1996). Eventually, a fairly complex situation evolved in written Akkadian, in which some symbols could stand for morphemes, others for sound units, such as morae (explained in Section 3 ahead) or syllables (often with various phonemic contrasts being disregarded), and yet others for semantic complements, used to disambiguate among homo-graphs; often, the same symbol could stand for a meaning and a sound unit (Rogers, 2005).
Egyptian writing existed in three basic styles. The oldest is hieroglyphic, whose graphemes are the well-known pictographic representations of objects (a vulture, a hand, a hill, etc.). Hieratic appeared at a similar time as hieroglyphic and is a direct cursive simplification of the hieroglyphs; various forms of it evolved over time. Demotic was the most cursive and least formal of the three styles (Ritner, 1996). Hieroglyphs were spatially arranged as convenient, while hieratic and demotic scripts were always written right to left. Based on the rebus principle, hieroglyphic writing used a mixture of the phonographic (sound-representing) and morphographic (morpheme-representing) principles. Only consonants were written, while the position of the vowels was inferable from context to readers proficient in the language; Egyptian had a templatic morphological structure similar to that found in other branches of Afro-Asiatic, with mostly triconsonantal discontinuous roots interwoven with derivational and inflectional morphemes. When the phonographic principle was used, graphemes could stand for one, two, or three consonants, but sound was often represented redundantly as well. Homonyms were disambiguated by adding a semantic complement, which was a grapheme that pointed at the intended meaning (Rogers, 2005). Today, a small number of demotic graphemes survive in the mostly Greek-based alphabet used to write Coptic, the last stage of the Egyptian language, and which is also the liturgical language used by the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria.
Chronologically, the next script to be independently invented was the Chinese script, which was first attested – already in a mature form capable of representing the entirety of the Old Chinese language – in inscriptions found on ox bones and turtle shells known as oracle bone inscriptions; these are dated at around 1200 BCE, the Shang dynasty period. While much earlier inscriptions have been found on fragments of pottery, dating as far back as approximately 4800 BCE, these cannot be shown to be related to oracle bone inscriptions or to be linguistic in nature (Boltz, 1996). All later forms of Chinese characters are descended from the oracle bone script.
The script was based on the morphographic principle (also known as the logographic principle), in which meaning was represented, not sound. The characters stood for syllable-sized units, which mostly corresponded to morphemes ...

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