Exploring Compound Word Processing by Chinese-as-a-Second-Language Learners: The Role of Morphological Awareness, Semantic Transparency, and Context

Authors: Trent Chen, Chun-yin Doris Chen (National Taiwan Normal University)
Speakers: Chun-yin Doris Chen
Strand: Text, Context, Entextualization
Session Type: General Session


This study focuses on how Chinese-as-a-second-language learners (CSL learners) process the meaning of Chinese compound words. Three issues related to compound processing were investigated: morphological awareness, semantic transparency, and context. Sixty participants were invited and divided into three groups based on their first language (L1) backgrounds: Sinosphere, non-Sinosphere, and native controls. Three tasks were conducted, including the Lexical Judgement Task (LJT), Lexical Inference Task in Context-Free Condition (LIT-CFC), and Lexical Inference Task in Context-Dependent Condition (LIT-CDC). The participants were required to cross out a pseudo-word in the LJT, to select the correct description of a target word in the LIT-CFC and LIT-CDC; the latter contained a sentence along with a photo.

The results revealed that an early morpho-semantic activation was observed in opaque compound processing by the CSL learners, verifying their L2 morphological awareness as the native controls. The semantic transparency effect led to dichotomous difficulty for Chinese Specific Purposes (CSP) vocabulary; specifically, CSL learners found opaque words challenging and non-opaque words easy. In contrast, native speakers were more sensitive to compound words with varying degrees of semantic transparency. Although semantic opaqueness was found to be challenging, context did not significantly improve the performance of CSL learners. This suggests that differences in L1 background may play a role in the processing of Chinese compound words by CSL learners. The Sinosphere group outperformed the non-Sinosphere group, but neither group achieved native-like competence. Therefore, it may be necessary to consider learners’ L1 backgrounds when teaching Chinese compound words to CSL learners.

Keywords: Morphological Awareness, Semantic Transparency, Context, Sinosphere, non-Sinosphere