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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Jun 14;102(24):8781-5. Epub 2005 Jun 6.

Reading depends on writing, in Chinese.

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  • 1Department of Linguistics, and Vice Chancellor's Office, University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong, China.


Language development entails four fundamental and interactive abilities: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Over the past four decades, a large body of evidence has indicated that reading acquisition is strongly associated with a child's listening skills, particularly the child's sensitivity to phonological structures of spoken language. Furthermore, it has been hypothesized that the close relationship between reading and listening is manifested universally across languages and that behavioral remediation using strategies addressing phonological awareness alleviates reading difficulties in dyslexics. The prevailing view of the central role of phonological awareness in reading development is largely based on studies using Western (alphabetic) languages, which are based on phonology. The Chinese language provides a unique medium for testing this notion, because logographic characters in Chinese are based on meaning rather than phonology. Here we show that the ability to read Chinese is strongly related to a child's writing skills and that the relationship between phonological awareness and Chinese reading is much weaker than that in reports regarding alphabetic languages. We propose that the role of logograph writing in reading development is mediated by two possibly interacting mechanisms. The first is orthographic awareness, which facilitates the development of coherent, effective links among visual symbols, phonology, and semantics; the second involves the establishment of motor programs that lead to the formation of long-term motor memories of Chinese characters. These findings yield a unique insight into how cognitive systems responsible for reading development and reading disability interact, and they challenge the prominent phonological awareness view.

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